Photo by Derrick Mahone
Moments before scoring the game's only touchdown, Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield talks with Wildcats offensive coordinator Craig Chatman during a break in the action.
The saying “somebody had to lose” usually comes to mind when two unbeaten teams battle in a close contest. After the Lovejoy’s grind-it-out, 9-0 victory over the Jonesboro Cardinals Friday night, it seemed more fitting to say “somebody had to win.”
In a herky-jerky, penalty-filled matchup between Region 4-AAAA’s two unbeaten squads, the 8th-ranked Wildcats did what highly ranked teams are supposed to do — find a way to win. And Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes wasn’t about to devalue his team’s accomplishment by counting style points.
“We didn’t do some of the things we wanted to do tonight,” said Hughes. “We didn’t throw quite as much as we wanted to, but when our defensive coaches gave us that stern look, we knew we’d better play it close to the cuff and not make any mistakes.”
It wasn’t a thing of beauty for either team offensively, but for Jonesboro who had more penalty yards (nine infractions for 75 yards) than total offense, it at times, got downright ugly.
“We’ve struggled on offense before, but not like this,” said Cardinals head coach Tim Floyd who’s team dropped to 6-1 overall and 6-1 in region play. “I thought we played hard out there tonight. We just made too many mistakes against a really good football team.”
In fact, both of Lovejoy’s scores in the game were setup almost exclusively by Jonesboro mistakes.
During Jonesboro’s first offensive series, Lovejoy linebacker, Eugene Fuller, pounced on a fumble by Cardinals quarterback Cedric Nettles at the Lovejoy 46-yard line. The Jonesboro defense stiffened, seemingly turning back Lovejoy’s attempt to convert a fourth down when a pass intended for Lovejoy receiver Ju’Michael Ramos, fell incomplete.
But the Cardinals were hit with a pass interference call that setup Jaime Nunez’s 27-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 3-0.
Three drives later, as Jonesboro was looking to settle for a more-than-manageable 3-0 deficit into halftime, the untimely penalty bug struck again when a personal foul infraction turned a 2nd-and-10 on the Jonesboro 30 yard line into a 1st and 10 at the 15.
On the very next play, Lovejoy’s Alejandro Benefield scampered in for the score on a designed quarterback keeper with just 26 seconds remaining in the half. The Wildcats’ nine points would prove tobe enough to seal the win.
Despite a shutout victory, Coach Hughes made it clear that his Wildcats had not played some cupcake opponent. Lovejoy — averaging 38.7 points a contest coming in — was held to their lowest point total of the season by far.
“We had to manage our offense based on what Jonesboro was taking from us,” Hughes said. “Everyone keeps forgetting Jonesboro is a good, good football team. I can’t take anything from them.”