FRISCO – Ever since Chris Ross was hired as Lovejoy’s new head football coach in February, he has set out to establish the foundation for his version of the Leopards on three principles: play for each other, love your teammates, respect your coaches and you can do anything.
The Leopards bought in immediately, he said.
Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the respect that Lovejoy’s players have for their first-year head coach and his coaching staff was rewarded in the form of the team’s first 10-0 regular-season record since 2012.
Freshman tailback Matthew Mainord rushed for 200 yards on 26 carries, leading a second-half surge as Lovejoy pulled away for a 31-17 victory against Frisco Liberty at Memorial Stadium. Trent Rucker’s go-ahead 29-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the third quarter proved to the game-winner.
“I’m so proud of them,” Ross said. “You can’t do any better than 10-0. These guys have attacked every challenge that we have given them and they did it again. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of individuals than I am right now. Tremendous job by these guys.”
In defeat, Liberty senior quarterback Will Glatch accounted for 360 yards of total offense. He did most of his damage on the ground, rushing 25 times for 153 yards. Glatch also completed 16-of-29 passes for 204 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown that he floated over the heads of multiple defenders to junior Preston Urbine with 5:27 left in the second quarter to tie the score at 7-all.
“Will is a tough kid,” said Matt Swinnea, Liberty head coach. “He was a linebacker for us and we transitioned him back to quarterback, and he brings that mentality that he’s going to run through you and over you. That’s always a good quality of a good quarterback.”
Lovejoy (10-0 overall, 8-0 District 7-5A Division II) opened the scoring on a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback RW Rucker to senior Reid Westervelt for a 7-0 Leopards lead with 4:20 left in the first quarter. Westervelt had just two catches in the game for 12 yards, but both went for touchdowns.
With Liberty (6-4, 5-3) showing a 4-deep look on defense, Rucker was held to just 144 passing yards on 16-of-23 through the air, but finished with three total touchdowns. Sophomore Jaxson Lavender led all Leopards in receiving with 93 yards on 10 catches.
Although the Redhawks did great work taking the Leopards’ passing game out of their element, Lovejoy countered with a bruising running game. In addition to Mainord’s 200 rushing yards, Rucker ran 15 times for 116 yards. Lovejoy finished with 321 rushing yards.
Mainord had 122 rushing yards in the second half, 47 on Lovejoy’s first drive to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Rucker to Westervelt to give Lovejoy a 14-7 lead.
Ross said key runs like those by Mainord go all the way back to his offseason workouts.
“What I saw was his work ethic, his consistency, his maturity,” Ross said. “That showed up in June and July. He’s obviously a tremendous athlete. There are very few freshmen that can handle the rigors of varsity football. The kid has never had a bad practice. It’s just amazing to me his maturity level. That’s what convinced me that this kid was ready.”
Liberty junior Evan Stewart ran an end-around play 5 yards to level the score at 14-14 with 4:59 left in the third quarter. Stewart added nine catches for 118 yards.
Lovejoy answered with a methodical 12-play drive that ended in Trent Rucker’s go-ahead 29-yard field goal to give the Leopards a 17-14 lead with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Junior Philip Joest bulldozed into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run two minutes into the fourth quarter to give Lovejoy a 10-point lead, but Liberty answered with a 23-yard field goal by junior Evan Moros to trim the deficit to 24-17 with 2:22 left in the game.
Lovejoy senior Isaiah Smith recovered the onside kick and Rucker proceeded to ice the victory with a 46-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left.
Lovejoy will face Greenville next week in the first round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs next week.
Despite the loss, Liberty had already qualified for the postseason and will face top-ranked Ennis for the bi-district championship next week in Ennis. The Redhawks will be making their first playoff appearance since 2011. Liberty has enjoyed a dramatic turnaround this season – the Redhawks won just one game last year and went 0-10 in 2018.
“Like I told the guys tonight, we’ve accomplished a lot,” Swinnea said. “It’s huge. We have a great opponent in Ennis, a team that has great size and great tradition. They’re going to be a handful, but we’re really looking forward to see our guys compete.”