By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
It’s been a somewhat dismal season for Georgia Tech. But fear not, Yellow Jacket fans. Travis Custis is on the way.
The Lovejoy senior was is in full, unrestricted, unadulterated beast mode in Friday night’s semifinal against North Cobb. Custis carried the ball 28 times for 292 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Wildcats (13-1) to a 63-42 win over the Warriors (11-3). It will be the second trip to the finals in as many years for Lovejoy, which fell to Tucker in last season’s AAAA championship game, 22-7.
At the outset, it looked like North Cobb was primed to pull an upset as the Warriors took advantage of Lovejoy turnovers, penalties, and mistakes and built a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. North Cobb broke a 7-7 tie with two unanswered scores – a 6-yard run by sophomore quarterback Tyler Queen, and a 21-yard run by junior J’Vonte Herrod, following a short punt by Lovejoy.
But Lovejoy responded with a 28-0 run that put on display its full arsenal of talent. First, the Wildcats went on a four-play, 80-yard drive that was all Custis. After gains of 7 and 10 yards moved the ball to the Lovejoy 37-yard line, Custis bulled his way through the line of scrimmage, then trampled the safety near midfield and sprinted the rest of the way for a 63-yard touchdown that pulled the Wildcats to within 21-14.
After a 59-yard punt by Queen pinned Lovejoy at its 19-yard line to start its next possession, Wildcat quarterback Alejandro Bennefield went to work. The senior led a six-play march to the endzone, completing 3-of-3 passes on the drive, including the final one – a 24-yard dart over the middle to Jumichael Ramos for the touchdown that tied the score at 21, late in the second quarter.
Then Lovejoy’s defense gave the Wildcats the lead for good. With North Cobb trying to get into field goal range in the final seconds of the half, Queen was picked off by cornerback Brandon Davis, who dipped and dodged his way 80-yards to put Lovejoy on top 28-21, just 24 seconds before halftime.
Lovejoy’s second pick-six of the night came on North Cobb’s first drive of the second half, as Queen was flushed to his right, then back to his left before he uncorked an errant pass over the middle that was grabbed by Custis’ cousin, sophomore Montrell Custis, who sprinted down the near sideline for a 50-yard touchdown return to make the score 35-21, Lovejoy.
But North Cobb didn’t go quietly. The Warriors responded immediately as Nick Miller returned the kickoff 65 yards to the Lovejoy 25 yard line. Two plays later, he took advantage of a busted coverage and Queen found him all alone for a 26-yard touchdown to narrow the gap back to seven points, 35-28.
But Lovejoy stepped on the gas again, scoring 21 unanswered points – 14 by Travis Custis – to put the game away for good. The first score came on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bennefield to Davis, who snuck behind the North Cobb defense to make the catch, then shook the safety before stumbling his way into the endzone.
Custis scored on a 28-yard run to push the lead to 49-28 near the end of the third quarter. Then, following the fourth interception on the night by the Wildcat defense, this one by safety Tyrell Brown, Custis scored his most artistic touchdown of the night. He barreled up the middle, broke two tackles, darted to his left, sprinted up the sideline, launched himself at the 5-yard line and soared into the end zone, sending the Lovejoy faithful into a frenzy – and probably Georgia Tech fans as well – to make the score 56-28 early in the fourth quarter.
North Cobb 14 7 7 14 42
Lovejoy 7 21 21 14 63
N – Xavier Borishade 31 pass from Tyler Queen (AJ Borduin kick)
L – Travis Custis 4 run (Jaime Nunez kick)
N – Queen 6 run (Borduin kick)
N – J’Vonte Herrod 21 run (Borduin kick)
L – Travis Custis 63 run (Nunez kick)
L – Jumichael Ramos 24 pass from Alejandro Bennefield (Nunez kick)
L – Brandon Davis 80 interception return (Nunez kick)
L – Montrell Custis 50 interception return (Nunez kick)
N – Nick Miller 26 pass from Queen (Borduin kick)
L – Davis 40 pass from Bennefield (Nunez kick)
L – Travis Custis 28 run (Nunez kick)
L – Travis Custis 24 run (Nunez kick)
N – Herrod 8 run (Borduin kick)
L – Travis Custis 23 run (Nunez)
N – Borishade 82 kickoff return (Borduin kick)