On a lackluster night inside Allen’s Eagle Stadium, it was a tale of two halves for the Lovejoy football team.
After leading Colleyville Heritage, 10-7, at halftime, the Leopards fell flat in the second half of Saturday’s contest at the 20th annual Tom Landry Classic, as they were outscored 6-0 over the final two frames to drop their 2019 opener to the Panthers, 13-10.
“We made critical mistakes that, probably, no one could see from the stands,” said Todd Ford, Lovejoy head coach. “We had some busted assignments. We had some missed routes in critical situations when we were backed up – things that are on us and that we can control. You can’t have those types of things late in the fourth quarter.”
It was the debut of junior Ralph Rucker under center for the Leopards, and the multi-sport athlete seemed to build momentum throughout Saturday’s first two quarters. After Heritage went up, 7-0, Rucker and the Leopards finished the half with back-to-back scoring drives, with one capped by a 21-yard score from Rucker to junior Reid Westervelt and the other by a 21-yard field goal from senior Tyler Loop. Lovejoy led Heritage in total yardage, 138-98, and in rushing yards, 106-39, with Rucker rumbling for 80 of his own on 17 carries.
From there, though, Heritage and running back Braxton Ash, who ended the season opener with 188 yards on 33 carries, took over.
The second half opened with a 16-play, 96-yard drive for the Panthers, who cemented their final three-point advantage with a 23-yard strike from quarterback AJ Smith to wideout Chad Turner.
Though Heritage gave the Leopards plenty of chances to climb back into the contest, Lovejoy continued to sputter, seeing Rucker toss his second interception of the game to end one threat and the final Leopard march of the night die out near midfield.
“They opened up (the second half) with a 16-play drive, and it was that more than anything. That does two things – it kills the clock, and it’ll wear out any defense. I don’t care if you’re the Dallas Cowboys or the Allen Eagles of the Lovejoy Leopards,” Ford said.
Heritage would finish the night with 342 yards of offense to the Leopards’ 223, totaling 14 first downs in the second half to help ice the narrow victory. Lovejoy lost the turnover battle, 2-0, on Rucker’s two interceptions, and the Leopards racked up nine penalties for 60 yards.
Rucker closed his debut under center with seven completions in 19 attempts, throwing for just 68 yards and his lone touchdown to Westervelt. He tacked on 120 yards on the turf to lead the Leopards. Westervelt totaled 56 yards on five catches.
Moving forward and staring down a date with Sulphur Springs next Friday, Ford said he was both pleased with his team’s fight despite the final score and optimistic that some of his young group’s mistakes can be ironed out quickly.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to grow and learn from the stuff (we did wrong),” he said. “Again, the things that we can fix are very simple and on us. You know, let’s don’t rough the punter. Let’s don’t have two or three penalties when we punt. … (It was) little things that no one notices that hurt us.”
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