Staying Perfect: Lovejoy uses balanced attack to beat McKinney North, remain unbeaten
Photo courtesy of Kellie Anfosso / kellie1982.smugmug.com
LUCAS -- Lovejoy needed big plays through the air to win its closest game this season, a 24-17 victory Friday against McKinney North (1-5, 1-2).
After beating their previous five opponents by an average of 26 points, the Leopards (6-0, 3-0) didn’t gain a two-touchdown lead until eight minutes into the fourth quarter. But their defense stiffened when needed most, stalling the Bulldogs on a final drive with 30 seconds to play.
“That was a tough one, we earned that one,” said Matt Green, Lovejoy head coach. “McKinney North is a good football team; I think anyone who looks at their record and judges them on that is probably not doing a very good job of understanding who they’ve played and the way they’ve played in those games.”
Lovejoy used a balance attack, rushing and passing for more than 200 yards and outgaining North 441-329. Senior running back Nick LaSane ran for 110 yards and caught two passes for 99 yards, including a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown with three minutes left in the first half. Lovejoy freshman quarterback Bowman Sells completed 12-of-19 passes (63 percent) for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
The game’s first points came on a 34-yard strike from Sells to junior wideout Justin Luce, who broke open behind the Bulldogs’ secondary toward the end of the first quarter. Luce (four catches for 83 yards) also scored on an 11-yard jump ball in the end zone thrown by senior all-purpose player Zach Saffle.
“They were really playing the run hard and they’ve got a good defensive front, so they could put pressure on us and afford to come down and play our run,” Green said. “We did play-action some, keyed their linebackers and their safeties and we got some wide open receivers on it.”
Coming off their first win of the season, a 35-21 victory last week over Royse City, the Bulldogs kept within striking distance thanks to Ronald Jones.
The sophomore running back churned through Lovejoy’s front line into the secondary much of the night.
Jones finished with 113 yards on just 15 carries and ran it in from 13 yards out to even the score, 7-7, in the second quarter.
North, however, couldn’t get much going in the air until the game was nearly out of reach.
Junior quarterback Ben Dutze, who threw two interceptions, completed 18-of-35 passes for 180 yards. Most of it came on the Bulldogs’ final scoring drive via a 56-yard catch-and-run from senior wideout Brandon Bloedel and an 11-yard fade to sophomore Gabe Constintine.
“It came down to big plays,” said Mike Fecci, North head coach. “They had a few more than we did and they capitalized on some things that we didn’t capitalize on, but other than that we fought and played hard, and that’s all we can ever do.”
Neither team could capitalize coming out of halftime as both went scoreless.
Saffle intercepted Dutze and returned it 29 yards, but a block in the back pushed the ball back to Lovejoy’s 38-yard line. The Bulldogs forced a punt five plays later.
Pre-snap penalties from both teams slowed down an otherwise up-tempo affair. Lovejoy was penalized nine times for 70 yards and North got flagged eight times for 50 yards. False starts, including one on their crucial final drive, accounted for five Bulldogs penalties, a trend that carried over from last week’s game.
“We’ve got to eliminate those things that have really hampered us at times,” Fecci said. “That’s been something that’s crept up on us here in the last couple ballgames.”
The teams traded field goals across the two halves, with Lovejoy junior Mick Ellis kicking a 24-yarder to push the lead to 17-7 at halftime and North senior Will Ashun booting a 40-yarder to keep the game close in the final quarter. The Leopards ate up four minutes of clock before pushing the lead back to 24-10 on one of just two Saffle passes. Constintine’s fourth-quarter touchdown grab gave the Bulldogs hope, but after a failed onside kick and two-minute Lovejoy drive, they ran out of time, 24-17.
“I’m proud of them,” Fecci said. “They stinking laid it on the line. They’ve got to learn to keep doing that, because if they do that they’ve got a chance. And I believe in them; I think we’re going to do that every time we step out here.”
North returns home to Ron Poe Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday to face a Wylie team (1-5, 1-2) coming off its first victory, a 50-7 romp of Greenville.
Lovejoy is on the road against Denison (1-5, 1-2) at the same time.
“I think when you look at [Denison’s] record and you really judge them based on that, that is not a good indicator on them,” Green said. “It’s their Homecoming game, so they’re going to be ready for us. It’s going to be a big game.”