Photo by John Bohn
North Gwinnett's Bobby Young (12) and Jalen Brooks (15) put pressure on Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield (15) during the third quarter of the Wildcats’ Class AAAAAA playoff win at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
HAMPTON — Right on the periphery of state championship contenders all season long, the Lovejoy Wildcats now find themselves among Class AAAAAA’s final four. Lovejoy used a big defensive play, timely passing and a reintroduction to the run game to get past North Gwinnett 21-6 Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium and advance to the semifinals.
“Pregame they told me it’s on me,” said Lovejoy running back Travis Custis. “Every down, every play, every quarter.”
Custis responded with a workmanlike 27 carries for 127 yards and the two Wildcat offensive touchdowns, all while chewing up precious seconds on the clock.
“He’s a tough runner,” said Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes. “I think the offensive line grew up tonight. We did some things tonight running the ball that we’ve been needing to do for a long time. I think that will help us the rest of the way out.”
Custis got the Wildcats on the board with 3:38 left in the first quarter, scoring on a 4-yard run to make it 7-0. The score came after North Gwinnett jumped offside on a fourth-and-2, while Lovejoy was about to settle for a 25-yard field goal try.
Leading 7-3 with less than four minutes left to play in the third quarter, Lovejoy defense’s found an opportunity to score. Veion Robinson got around the edge of the Bulldog offensive line and stripped quarterback Michael Haynes of the ball. Tyrell Brown picked up the bouncing ball and took it in 40 yards for the score.
“I timed the snap perfectly,” Robinson said. “I just got off as quick as I could. I made sure not to let the [offensive tackle] get a hand on me.”
Said Brown, “I was in coverage and saw the ball rolling on the field. It changed the whole momentum of the game. The offense was struggling, we put some points on the board and let them know we had their backs.”
Robinson’s strip was the sixth of eight sacks for Lovejoy.
Custis finished the scoring with a 1-yard plunge with 2:25 left. An Alejandro Bennifield 45-yard pass to JuMichael Ramos set up the score. Bennefield and Ramos had good chemistry all night. Bennifield completed 12 of 21 passes for 145 yards, with Ramos catching seven for 103 yards.
North Gwinnett (11-2) got its only points on field goals that started with short fields, thanks to Lovejoy mishandling the snaps on punts.
Lovejoy (12-1) will now host North Cobb in the semifinals, just one win away from its second straight state championship appearance.
“Everybody was doubting us and we knew we had the talent and potential to go wherever we needed to go,” Brown said. “It feels real good to be able to come back here again and prove we are for real.”