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Lovejoy gets 8th shutout, semifinals berth

Photo by Jerry Jackson
Lovejoy running back Christian Hill (24) is tackled by a group of Ware County defenders in the sixth-ranked Wildcats’ 14-0 win on Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Photo by Jerry Jackson Lovejoy running back Christian Hill (24) is tackled by a group of Ware County defenders in the sixth-ranked Wildcats’ 14-0 win on Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

If it’s true that defense wins championships, then Lovejoy keeps proving it’s title-ready.

The Wildcats’ defense posted its eighth shutout of the season, while getting the usual big game from junior running back Travis Custis as Lovejoy defeated Ware County 14-0 in a Class AAAA quarterfinal at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Both defenses came out firing in a first half which featured many hard hits and several missed opportunities. Lovejoy looked to start fast on its first possession when quarterback Alejandro Bennefield connected with a wide-open Jermaine Hough on a crossing route for what looked to be a big gainer. But Ware County’s Demetrius Causer stripped him of the ball and pounced on the fumble, giving the Gators possession at the Lovejoy 38-yard line.

That drive stalled and the Gators came away empty-handed after Seth Starling was short on a 45-yard field goal attempt. Several possessions later, Ware County missed another golden opportunity to put points on the board — this time because a Lovejoy defender stepped up and made a huge play.

After Gator tailback Xavier Tobler scooted 28 yards on a delayed option pitch, and fullback Henry Wilson rumbled 30 yards on a belly dive play, Ware County quarterback Josh Bennett delivered a pass, while scrambling away from Lovejoy pressure, right into the hands of Wildcat cornerback Rico McWilliams. The South Carolina recruit returned the ball to the 16-yard line and helped end the half in a scoreless tie.

The Wildcats could only muster 96 yards of total offense in the first half. But despite the lack of offensive production, Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said his offense did enough to give him hope for a bigger second half.

“Coming into the game, we weren’t so sure we could just run right at their defense,” said Hughes. “But going into the second half we made some adjustments and knew that we could.”

Nobody seemed to benefit more from those adjustments than Custis, who powered Lovejoy’s 10-play, 63-yard drive to open the third quarter by ripping off runs of 11, 17 and 22 yards. He gave Lovejoy a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard scoring plunge.

After the Wildcat defense held Ware County to a three-and-out, Custis electrified the crowd with a 62-yard touchdown jaunt where he plowed through the heart of the Gator defense, shrugging off at least five would-be tacklers and stretching the Wildcats lead to 14-0 with 5:51 left in the third quarter.

Ware County would threaten to score one last time, but Hough ended all hopes of a comeback by leaping up to intercept a second-down pass from Bennett at the Lovejoy 2-yard line and returning it 37 yards, punctuating the dominating defensive effort.

“I peeped it out and knew the post route was coming and just jumped in front of the ball,” said Hough. “It was a good play. We just played good hard-nosed ‘D’ tonight.”

The loss ended Ware County’s season at 10-3. Lovejoy improved to 13-0 and will move on to play Warner Robins in the next round of the playoffs.