Photos by Jerry Jackson
Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield went looking for running room after getting pressured from a Marietta defender, but he and the Wildcats had little trouble on offense most of the night.
HAMPTON — The irresistible force met the immovable object as the Marietta offense clashed with the Lovejoy defense.
Chalk one up for the immovable object.
Lovejoy held Marietta’s high-powered offense in check for most of the night, as the Wildcats advanced to the state quarterfinals with a 36-15 victory at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
Cornerback Brandon Davis put an exclamation point on the win as he intercepted Blue Devil quarterback Anthony Jennings in the end zone and weaved his way through 105 yards of turf for the game’s last touchdown.
“I think the defense did a super job all night long,” Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. “Our kids played hard. They played well all night long.”
The Wildcats lived in Marietta’s backfield for much of the night, accounting for 14 tackles for loss with 12 of those being on Blue Devil quarterbacks. One of the last came with a little over four minutes left to play.
Eugene Fuller got a key sack as he reached out and grabbed a retreating Jennings to help cripple a drive that had reached the Lovejoy 9-yard line with the Blue Devils down 29-15.
“We went against Alpharetta earlier in the season and they were a passing team too. All we did was [look] back on that,” said Wildcat nose tackle Nathaniel Norwood. “We worked a lot of two minute drill because we knew they were going to come out and pass. The whole entire week we were working on pass rush.”
Marietta’s (8-4) only points in the first half came on special teams as Onterrio Lay picked up a mishandled long snap for a field goal and raced 66 yards for a touchdown. That score put them up 8-7 and answered an 18-yard Alejandro Bennefield fade pass to Arshad Jackson that gave Lovejoy the early lead.
Lovejoy (11-1) then got serious as they pounded out a nine-play, 97-yard ground-heavy drive. Jonathan Griffin capped it off with a 39-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats up 15-8 with 7:39 left to play in the second quarter.
The Wildcats held the Blue Devils to 28 yards of offense in the first half. The half could have been even more lopsided if not for three Lovejoy roughing the punter penalties and a lost fumble on a punt return. After each mistake however, the Wildcat defense stopped the Marietta offense.
Lovejoy took the opening kickoff of the second half and went 70 yards on 10 plays. Bennifield hooked up with Jeff Murphy on a 15-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats up 22-8. The lead became three touchdowns when Bennefield threw an 18-yard swing pass to Travis Custis for a touchdown with 10:43 left in the game.
Bennefield finished the night 11 of 17 for 152 yards passing and three touchdowns. Custis had 23 carries for 93 yards on the ground.
Jennings, an LSU commitment, was held to 12 of 25 for 138 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. His lone score came on a 44-yard strike to Tyree Harris in the fourth quarter.
Lovejoy will now host North Gwinnett (11-1), a surprise winner against Grayson, and Hughes is hoping that the confines of Twelve Oaks Stadium will continue to be friendly.
“It’s great to be home. We went that route last year. We were able to be the home team throughout,” Hughes said. “It definitely works to our advantage.”