ARLINGTON — After withstanding an early playoff test in last week’s bi-district round against Greenville, Lovejoy got back to playing the brand of football that has been part and parcel with its unbeaten 2020 season.
The Leopards (12-0) started fast in Friday’s area playoff bout against Everman, scoring the first 28 points of the ballgame to fuel a 49-21 victory from Globe Life Park.
Advancing to the regional semifinal round of the postseason for just the fifth time in its history, Lovejoy draws either top-ranked Ennis or Mansfield Timberview in the third round.
“At this level, we tell our kids that everybody has won a gold ball. Everybody’s a champion of some sort,” said Chris Ross, Lovejoy head coach. “Everman is a very physical, run-oriented, stop-the-run type of team — exactly what you expect to see in Texas. To be able to start fast like that and play more like how we’ve been accustomed to playing felt real good.”
That caliber of play had eluded the Leopards in recent weeks — they scored just seven points in the first half against Frisco Liberty on Dec. 3 and opened the postseason Dec. 11 with just a 21-15 halftime lead on No. 4 seed Greenville.
Friday in Arlington was a return to form. The Leopards found the end zone three times in the first quarter alone, including just 55 seconds into the ballgame after sophomore Jaxson Lavender scored from 15 yards out after a screen pass from senior RW Rucker for a quick 7-0 advantage.
An Everman special teams gaffe set up another quick Leopard drive, one that required just two plays with Rucker barreling through the Bulldogs’ defense for a 3-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Junior Philip Joest stifled the ensuing Everman drive with a third-down sack, which led to some trickery by Lovejoy on its ensuing possession as Ross dialed up a halfback pass from Lavender to senior Reid Westervelt for a 54-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left in the quarter to creak open the floodgates.
“We’ve got about five skill guys that can throw the ball,” Ross said. “We had that one three different ways — that was just one of them. It’s fun, the kids enjoy that stuff and we look for ways to be able to take shots like that.”
No matter the passer, rusher or receiver, Lovejoy couldn’t miss on Friday. The Leopards totaled 400 yards balanced between 216 passing yards and 184 rushing yards and punted only one time — on their final drive of the ballgame after cycling in their backups.
“I think the guys just settled in and played,” Ross said. “That first playoff game, there are always jitters and guys who haven’t been in those situations yet. Now you’re settled in and just playing football.”
The Leopards opened up a 28-0 lead thanks to a 23-yard touchdown pass from Rucker to senior Luke Mayfield before Everman at last returned fire. The Bulldogs found the end zone with 16 seconds left in the first half after 6-foot-3 Texas commit Juan Davis won a jump ball in the back of the end zone on a 10-yard pass from Desmond Woodson. Woodson took over behind center after an injury to starting quarterback Eric Calamease that required the signal-caller to be stretchered off the field.
The Bulldogs leaned on their ground game, which tallied 261 yards on just over 5.0 yards per carry. That included a 19-yard scamper by Jonathen Wilson early in the third quarter to trim Lovejoy’s lead to 28-14.
The Leopards responded with 21 straight points to put the ballgame out of reach. Rucker capped a three-play drive with a 26-yard touchdown run and later found Westervelt deep for a 22-yard score. Freshman Matthew Mainord found the end zone on a 3-yard run with 9:58 left to polish off the victory.
“There can’t be a lapse or a letdown. At this stage, everybody’s good,” Ross said. “They’ve got great speed and an unbelievable offensive line, but I was very proud of our guys understanding the situation and attacking them.”
Rucker accounted for five touchdowns in the win, passing for 162 yards and rushing for 137 more. Westervelt continued his banner senior campaign with five catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns.