No football team embraced the “bend, but don’t break” attitude more than Lovejoy in 2017.
The Leopards lost their first five games, including the opening two district tilts, by a combined margin of 175-56, surrendering an average of 35 points per game while scoring only 11.
But the Lovejoy offense awoke in Game Six, beating Forney, 63-15. The team took off from there, winning its next five games – including a 45-29 win over Sulphur Springs in the bi-district playoff round.
And even though Frisco Lone Star rolled over Lovejoy in the area round, the fight Lovejoy displayed to go from 0-5 to a second-round playoff team was nothing short of remarkable.
“We always knew we were a good team, it just took us a few games to put everything together in all three phases,” said Todd Ford, Lovejoy head coach. “It’s really a testament to our guys and our coaches for believing and staying the course when things were going rough at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t be more proud of the way we finished out this season.”
The six-game winning streak included a plus-94 point differential and a 42.5 points-per-game scoring offense, with wins over Mesquite Poteet, Wylie East and North Forney – a team that advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
Lovejoy also played one of the tougher non-district schedules in the Metroplex, with games against Argyle, Lone Star and Wakeland, as well as facing defending state-champion Highland Park and playoff-squad West Mesquite to open district.
Health was a key factor in the Leopards’ about-face, as junior quarterback Carson Collins and running back Jahi Rainey returned from early-season injuries to spark the offense. Ford also began featuring linebacker Bumper Pool, an Arkansas commit, in a wildcat role on offense.
By season’s end, Collins had thrown for 2,910 yards and 24 touchdowns despite missing two full games. His weapons also put up impressive stats, led by senior wide receiver and TCU commit Chase Van Wagoner’s 942 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Collins also developed a rapport with receivers Jacob Terwilliger (846 receiving yards, eight touchdowns) and Beau Iovinelli (582 receiving yards, four touchdowns).
Rainey rushed for 812 yards and six scores, and Pool added six scores of his own.
Lovejoy’ offensive firepower was stymied in the second round, as Lone Star intercepted Collins five times and held the Leopards to only nine points.
“We did some good things, but we didn’t take care of the ball, and you can’t give a team like Lone Star that many extra possessions,” Ford said.
The offense should be just as potent next season, with Collins, Rainey, Terwilliger and Iovinelli all returning for their senior seasons. The defense will take a hit, as Pool, defensive end Mason Mitchell and defensive backs Landon McDermott and Preston Maxfield all graduate. Ford is confident, though, in the upcoming crop of athletes that could fill any voids.
“We’ve got a good young group of players coming up, as well as a ton of guys that had varsity experience this season,” Ford said. “The great thing about this year’s squad is, we had what you can call ‘program builders’ on our team. And to have a season like this, it only builds momentum for the program going forward.”
Lovejoy will have to fight for a playoff spot once again in 2018. But, with a strong senior class returning, and the momentum from this year’s second-half run fresh on everyone’s mind, the Leopards will be a tough out for anyone on the gridiron.
“It just comes back to believing in each other and doing what we know we’re capable of,” Ford said.
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