With Halloween just a few days away, one word has scared the visors off of many a football coach who has lined up across the field from Lovejoy.
First Travis Custis, now at West Georgia, tormented defenses. Then his cousin, Montrell, now a sophomore defensive back at Ole Miss, dominated opponents from both sides of the ball. Now, Zion, Montrell’s brother – the youngest and smallest Custis -- has taken over. The senior ran for 210 yards on 24 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 34-28 win over Jonesboro, Friday at Tara Stadium.
Custis came into the game with more than 1,500 yards rushing as the Wildcats’ main offensive weapon. After starting the season 2-3, Lovejoy (6-4, 5-2 in Region 4-AAAAAA) closed the regular season winning four of its final five games – largely due to Custis – and will enter the state playoff as the third seed out of Region 4-AAAAAA. The loss for Jonesboro (3-6, 2-4) cast further doubt on the Cardinal's post season chances.
“We didn’t start out the season too good, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Custis said afterward. “I think this sets us up good for the playoffs.”
Custis and his offensive line staked Lovejoy to a 20-0 lead in the first half on the strength of three touchdown runs – a 19- and nine-yard run in the first quarter, and a 21-yarder in the second. But Jonesboro’s offense finally put something together just before halftime.
With less than a minute left before the break, on third down from the Wildcats’ 17 yard line, Cardinal quarterback Keyshawn Early looked like he was about to be sacked. But he broke loose and found senior Jaaliq Brown all alone in the middle of the field at the goal line to cut the Lovejoy lead to 20-7 at halftime.
Jonesboro took that offensive momentum into the third quarter, as it needed just three offensive plays (and an offside penalty on Lovejoy) to narrow the gap to 20-14, after Early and Brown hooked up on another scoring pass play, this time from 36 yards out.
But Lovejoy answered, albeit not as quickly, with Custis doing most of the damage. The senior carried the ball seven times for 56 yards, on a 12-play 80-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard run by fullback Benney Chuckwu, and pushed the Wildcat lead back to two scores at 27-14.
Lovejoy looked primed to cut back into the deficit on its ensuing possession. A 40-yard kickoff return by Matavion Brooks set the Cardinals up at the Lovejoy 30-yard line. An 11-yard pass play from Early to Brooks moved the ball to the Wildcats’ 19-yard line. A pass to Brown appeared to move the ball to the 11-yard line, but Brown was called for a facemask penalty while attempting to stiff arm the Lovejoy tackler. The 15-yard mark off was the first of three consecutive negative plays that ended with Jonesboro having to punt on fourth-and-31 from the Lovejoy 41.
After both teams exchanged punts, Custis sealed the deal for the Wildcats. With a little more than eight minutes left in regulation, Lovejoy took over on its 34-yard line. Custis darted over the left side for a 48-yard run, and two plays later, carried five Jonesboro tacklers into the end zone to finish off an 11-yard touchdown run that pushed the Lovejoy lead to 34-14.
“I feel pretty good,” Custis said of his body after a long season. “We get a week off before the playoff start, so that will give us a chance to get healthy and get ready to go.”
Lovejoy 13 7 7 7 34
Jonesboro 0 7 7 14 28
L – Zion Custis 19 run (kick good)
L – Custis 9 run (kick failed)
L – Custis 21 run (kick good)
J – Jaaliq Brown 17 pass from Keyshawn Early (Asanel Castaneda kick)
J – Brown 36 pass from Early (Castaneda kick)
L – Benney Chuckwu 1 run (kick good)
L – Custis 11 run (kick good)
J – Early 14 run (Castaneda kick)
J – Brown 12 pass from Early (Castaneda kick)