HAMPTON -- The battle of who would survive its mistakes lasted for a half.
The first two quarters featured botched punt snaps, a muffed punt that ended up setting that team back 17 yards, two bobbled shotgun snaps that lost 27 yards and some shanked punts.
Lovejoy, as it turned out, was the one to survive that half of mistakes, converting a late first-half interception into a momentum-snagging touchdown, and staying sharper in the second half en route to a 21-6 win Friday night over Warner Robins in a GHSA Class AAAA semifinal game at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
Warner Robins ended the season at 11-3 while Lovejoy improved to 14-0 as it moves on to the state championship game.
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“We didn’t play real well against Bainbridge, we came back and won it at the end,” Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way said. “We didn’t play real well against Lakeside, and came back and won. These guys were just too good.”
The Demons had their chances in the first half to take control but couldn’t and paid the price. Two holding penalties near the end zone were huge, as was a fumble in Lovejoy territory.
“We had like three opportunities in the red zone,” Warner Robins running back Brian Sutton said. “We just couldn’t get it done. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Warner Robins’ offense was banged up, especially in the backfield. The Demons were without Stephon Cross, who was hurt late in last week’s win at East Paulding. Sutton continued to play with an injured hamstring, and he missed time in the game, as did DeAnthony Mack.
The Wildcats did give up 83 yards to Sutton, but quarterback Ty Odom struggled against one of the top defenses in the state, completing only four passes and throwing two interceptions.
Travis Custis had 134 yards rushing for Lovejoy, 109 coming in the second half.
Lovejoy had little offense to show for itself in the first half, yet held a 7-3 lead. The Wildcats made up for it in the second half, outgaining the Demons 199-75 in the second half and holding Warner Robins to a field goal.
“We punted the ball one time,” Way said. “You score six points, and you got one punt. We had turnovers, stopped ourselves, didn’t make a couple fourth downs.
“They had a lot to do with it.”
The Demons offense couldn’t get untracked against one of the top defenses in the state.
“They have a lot of speed, a lot of weapons,” Way said. “They put a bunch of guys up on the line of scrimmage. We would break some, and they would tackle us for four or five or six yard gains. We never could get open against their secondary.”
Warner Robins stalled on its first drive of the second half and settled for a field goal from Kyle Floyd to get within 7-6 with 7:55 left in the third.
The Demons were nearing midfield when Odom faded right and his ill-advised pass was picked off by Jermaine Hough at the Warner Robins’ 45. The Wildcats needed five plays to score on Alejandro Bennefield’s 4-yard pass to an open A.J. Jackson and go up 14-6 with 2:08 remaining in the third.
Warner Robins was then stopped on fourth-and-3 at the Lovejoy 23 a half-minute into the fourth quarter.
Custin picked up energy and the Demons’ defense lost energy. He gained 31 yards on four runs, breaking some tackles and running through some weaker tries, finally rolling in for a 27-yard score at the 6:39 mark, Jaime Nunez’ kick making it 21-6.
Warner Robins will spend the offseason bemoaning the lost opportunities of the first half, one in which the Demons made sure Lovejoy didn’t take advantage of anything Warner Robins did wrong, like two holding penalties inside the 10.
And the Demons couldn’t take advantage of the Wildcats mistakes, like two shotgun snaps that went awry.
Lovejoy had all of 32 yards in total offense after a half, and recorded eight negative plays out of 20 snaps. Yet the Wildcats held that 7-3 lead.
“We knew we should have been up in the game,” Sutton said. “That’s how we knew we should keep our composure.”
But it wasn’t quite enough as the first half seemed to haunt the Demons and sap them of some energy.
“It really does,” Sutton admitted. “It really, really does. By the time it came down to the defense on the field with eight minutes on the clock, they kept on driving and driving.
“They were just taking the will out of us, taking the will out of us. When the offense got back on, we were like, ‘keep on fighting, keep on fighting.’ And we did.”