Photo by Jerry Jackson
Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield (15) looks to pass the ball Thursday in the first half of the Wildcats, victory over North Clayton at Tara Stadium.
The tone of the game was established at the outset Thursday. Three plays in, Lovejoy’s pressure on defense started creating problems for North Clayton — difficulties that the Eagles never managed to solve.
A bad snap — a recurring theme for North Clayton — led to Travis Custis’ first touchdown barely three minutes into the game, and Lovejoy kept the pressure on in a 24-0 victory at Tara Stadium.
“The defense carried us,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “We’ve worked hard on special teams. They’ve done a great job for us.”
The Lovejoy special teams broke through on a fourth-and-9 at the North Clayton 21. The Wildcats blocked the punt attempt, and the most fortunate thing that could happen for North Clayton was that nobody wearing a white Lovejoy jersey was able to fall on it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Instead, the ball bounded out of the back of the end zone for a safety, and Lovejoy led 9-0 with 2:05 to play in the first quarter.
Try as they might, the Eagles could not handle Lovejoy’s defensive front. Nathaniel Norwood and Veion Robinson were constantly applying pressure and North Clayton quarterback Dennis Johnson was forced to scramble for his life.
“The defense did a great job — the whole front, especially Norwood,” Hughes said. “He was the catalyst of the whole bunch.”
He was one big reason why it seemed North Clayton constantly was facing low-percentage situations. A third-and-28 that led to fourth-and-34 on one series, a third-and-30 that went nowhere on another, and a third-and-13 that Norwood’s pressure — and eventual sack — turned into a fourth-and-29.
You get the picture.
“We couldn’t stop their defensive front the whole ballgame,” North Clayton coach Max Wiltz lamented. “We just did not have any fight.”
The Eagles (2-1) have lived by their defense all season, as shutouts of Riverdale and Mundy’s Mill attest. That same defense kept them in the game as long as it could. The Eagles were still within respectable range well into the third quarter.
But the aforementioned fourth-and-29 play, with the Eagles pinned back on their 2-yard line, led to bad things for North Clayton. Immediately.
Lovejoy’s Quintoarius Baker fielded the ensuing punt at the 32 and returned it for a touchdown. Jermaine Hough added the two-point conversion, running in virtually untouched, and the Wildcats (2-0) led with 2:34 left in the quarter 17-0.
Custis added the final touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 5:56 to play.
The Lovejoy victory was nearly complete when sophomore tight end Randy Anyanwu suffered a right ankle injury so severe he was carted off the field on a stretcher, to an ambulance.