Lovejoy handles East Coweta in 30-7 win

There can be nights during a football season at the high school level where a team can seem outmatched, and at times, helpless.

East Coweta has now experienced that feeling on back-to-back Friday nights.

For the second consecutive week, the Indians played well early, but couldn't sustain any momentum against a top-notch opponent. This time it was Lovejoy, a Class AAAA state quarterfinalist a year ago, that made the most of that experience among a group of 33 seniors in a 30-7 victory at Garland Shoemake Stadium.

How well East Coweta (1-3), which lost 32 seniors to graduation, handles the early season adversity may play a bigger role in how the team finishes the 2012 season. 

The Indians stopped Lovejoy (3-1) with a red-zone interception to close the Wildcats first drive, but couldn't get its offense going until well after the Wildcats had jumped to a 30-0 lead after three quarters. Behind senior running back Travis Custis, who gained 158 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, Lovejoy racked up well over a dozen first downs before East Coweta managed its first with just over four minutes left in the third period. 

Custis, who has verbally committed to Georgia Tech, had 116 yards by halftime, as the Wildcats broke the game open with a long touchdown pass from quarterback Alejandro Bennefield to Jeff Murphy with just 47 seconds left in the first half. 

“They bunched up and came after us and never did falter… like they’re supposed to do,” East Coweta head coach Clint Wade said. “They are a very well-coached and athletic football team. I was a little disappointed with the way we responded. We knew they would give us their best.”

Lovejoy employed a balanced attack that kept the Indians’ defense off balance for most of the night. With East Coweta's offense stuck in neutral, the Wildcats were successful on their first five attempts on third-down with only Jemarcus Godfrey's clutch interception keeping Lovejoy off the scoreboard on its first possession. 

Also contributing to the Lovejoy offensive explosion was fellow senior, quarterback Alejandro Bennifield. Bennefield was 10 for 22 passing. He threw for 170 yards and had a pair of touchdown passes.

Bennifield made up for an off-balanced and ill-timed throw, however. Lovejoy ended the first quarter with an 11-play 57-yard drive that relied heavily on the running of Custis. After just over 6 minutes of moving the ball, Bennifield hooked up with Brandon Davis for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.

East Coweta's defense again held early to force a 37-yard field goal by Lovejoy kicker Jamie Nunez with 3:15 left in the second quarter and it looked as if the Indians — who received the second-half kickoff — were in good shape heading toward the break.

Instead Murphy, who caught a pair of touchdown passes last week in a win over Alpharetta, may have been responsible for extinguishing those thoughts when he got behind the defense on a fourth-down snap and caught a pass streaking down the left sidelines to make it 17-0 at halftime. 

Forced to punt off the second-half kickoff, Lovejoy put the victory away with consecutive scoring drives in the third quarter. With 6:04 remaining, Custis plunged home from a yard out to make it 23-0. Then, with 25 seconds left, Jonathan Griffin bullied his way into the end zone, also from 1-yard out.

“A few of our players didn’t give up,” Wade said. “We need more of that. I feel like we are a better team than what we established tonight.”

The Indians’ lone score came in the fourth quarter on a 9-play, 44-yard drive aided by a pair of 15-yard Lovejoy penalties. East Coweta junior Weylin Orr, who led the team with 54 yards on 16 carries, ended the shutout bid with a 12-yard touchdown run with 7:47 left amidst a running clock in the fourth quarter. 

The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Indians, who travel to Central-Phenix City, Ala., next week for the first of four consecutive road games. 

“We are going to keep working,” Wade said. “We are going to keep making things go in the right direction and get back on track.”

— Chris Girouard, Newnan Times-Herald