By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Lovejoy’s offense – powered by five bullies on the offensive line, left handed gun-slinging quarterback Alejandro Bennefield, a bevy of filthy-good receivers, and Georgia Tech-bound running back Travis Custis – usually gets the headlines.
But Friday night against North Gwinnett, the Wildcats put their defense on display. The unit stifled North Gwinnett’s potent offense, holding the Bulldogs without a touchdown en route to 21-6 win in one Class AAAAAA quarterfinal, at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy.
In fact, Lovejoy’s defense outscored North Gwinnett’s offense, which had been averaging nearly 40 points per game. And the defensive touchdown put the game away, for all intents and purposes.
Midway thorough the third quarter with Lovejoy up 7-3, North Gwinnett’s defense, which played valiantly in its own right, forced a Lovejoy punt. The Bulldogs took over on their 26-yard line. But four plays into the drive, North Gwinnett quarterback Michael Haynes, who was hampered by a leg injury and harassed by the Lovejoy front seven all night, was sacked by defensive end Veion Robinson. Robinson stripped Haynes and Wildcat safety Tyrell Brown scooped it up and rambled 40 yards for a touchdown that put Lovejoy ahead 14-3.
North Gwinnet managed another field goal on its next possession to narrow the score to 14-6 midway through the fourth quarter. But Lovejoy’s offense broke loose on the ensuing possession, driving 78 yards in just six plays, most of it coming on a roughing-the-passer penalty and a 43-yard pass from Bennefield to Jumichael Ramos, which moved the ball to the Bulldog 1-yard line. Custis, who finished with 126 yards on 31 carries, crashed in from there for the final points of the night.
Bennefield completed 13-of-22 passes for 128 yards, while the Wildcat defense held the Bulldogs to just 129 yards of total offense.
Lovejoy scored the only points it would really need on its second possession of the game, after the defense forced a three-and-out and a short North Gwinnett punt. The Wildcats mixed the run and the pass and drove 32 yards to the Bulldog’s 8 yard line, midway through the first quarter.
But just went it appeared that the North Gwinnett defense had done its job and forced a 25-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-three, the Bulldogs lined up in the neutral zone and the resulting penalty gave the Wildcats a first-and-goal at the 4.
Custis wasted no time getting in the end zone, as he took a handoff on the next play from scrimmage, bounced outside to his left and muscled his way across the goal line to give Lovejoy a 7-0 lead after Jaime Nunez made good on the point-after kick.
North Gwinnett 0 3 0 3 6
Lovejoy 7 0 7 7 21
L – Travis Custis 4 run (Jaime Nunez kick)
NG – Michael D’Angola 32 fg
L – Tyrell Brown 40 fumble return (Nunez kick)
NG – D’Angola 37 fg
L – Custis 1 run (Nunez kick)