The Warriors lost one of four fumbles, two of four interceptions were returned for touchdowns and Lovejoy rolled to a 63-42 victory in Friday’s Class AAAAAA state semifinal at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
North Cobb (11-3) held a 14-point lead after J’Vonte Herrod — who had 13 carries for 79 yards — scored the first of his two touchdowns off a 21-yard option run into the end zone 5 seconds into the second quarter.
But the tide turned in a big way for the Warriors on their next possession.
With North Cobb facing second-and-10 at the Lovejoy 25, the Cinwon Whitehead intercepted Tyler Queen’s pass attempt. Four plays later, Travis Custis scored on a 63-yard run to bring the Wildcats to within seven — 21-14 — midway through the quarter.
Custis’ run sparked a 28-0 run for Lovejoy (13-1), which outscored North Cobb 35-21 in the second half en route to the victory. Brandon Davis had an interception return of 74 yards during the game-changing run, and Montrell Custis returned another pick 59 yards for a touchdown that put the Wildcats in front 35-21 with 8:51 to go in the third.
Lovejoy advanced to its second straight state championship game, and will take on Norcross for the title next Saturday at the Georgia Dome. The Wildcats lost the Class AAAA championship to Tucker last season
North Cobb, meanwhile, saw its season come to a close, one round shy of reaching the state finals for the first time in 54 years.
“You can’t take anything away from (Lovejoy), but when you have five turnovers, it’s disappointing,” North Cobb coach Shane Queen said. “You can’t beat a top-five team like that turning the ball over. They did what they had to do. They made plays and turned our turnovers into points. This time of the season, you can’t turn the ball over five times.”
Cameron Albright’s interception set up North Cobb’s first touchdown as Tyler Queen connected with Xavier Borishade for a 31-yard strike early in the first quarter.
But a fumbled punt led to Lovejoy having first-and-goal at the 7, and Travis Custis scored from 5 yards out to tie the game.
North Cobb answered right back with a 10-play, 61-drive, capped by Queen’s 6-yard touchdown run. Then, on the Warriors’ next possession, Herrod’s run put North Cobb in front by 14.
Nick Miller had a long kickoff return following Montrell Custis’ interception return for a score, which set up a 26-yard touchdown pass from Queen to Miller to pull North Cobb to within 35-28. But Lovejoy scored on two of its next three drives to stake a 49-28 lead, and Tyrell Brown’s interception return of 35 yards set up Travis Custis for a 26-yard touchdown run and a 56-28 lead with 11:07 remaining in the game.
Herrod found the end zone again from 8 yards out on the Warriors’ ensuing possession, but a sack from Isaiah Lyles on fourth down late in the fourth quarter led to Travis Custis’ 22-yard score.
Borishade returned the kickoff 78 yards for North Cobb’s final score with 4:09 remaining, and Lovejoy collected two first downs on its final drive to run out the clock.
“In a game like this, when turnovers turn into touchdowns — who knows, we could have been in the ball game,” Shane Queen said. “I’m just proud of our kids for not giving up. They answered every time. When they went down on a turnover, we went back down and scored, so our kids fought. But that’s a great football team, and probably the best football team we’ve played all year. My hats are off to them. They have a chance to win it all next week.”
Travis Custis had 31 carries for 291 yards and five touchdowns.
“There’s a reason he’s going to Georgia Tech,” Queen said of the Lovejoy senior. “He’s a great back and broke a lot of tackles, and those big offensive linemen wore us down.”
Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennefield completed 11 of 23 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. JuMichael Ramos, another Georgia Tech commitment, had three catches for 82 yards and a score, while Davis caught four passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Tyler Queen was 10-of-26 for 186 yards, four interceptions and two touchdowns. Borishade had four receptions for 99 yards and a score. Miller caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown, and Herrod had three catches for 52 yards.