It’s a battle between the team currently in first place against the defending district champion. And Denison doesn’t expect anything else than Lovejoy’s best effort when the teams get together for the second time ever, especially after what happened in the first meeting.

It’s a battle between the team currently in first place against the defending district champion. And Denison doesn’t expect anything else than Lovejoy’s best effort when the teams get together for the second time ever, especially after what happened in the first meeting.


"A big test for us. They rolled over us last year," senior defensive back Derick Bennett said. "We’re going to do what our coaches tell us, what we’ve practice all week."


The Yellow Jackets’ struggles on defense in 2012 reached its nadir against the Leopards. Lovejoy, on its way to an undefeated regular season in its first year as a 4A program, beat Denison, 54-30, behind 724 yards — the most ever allowed by the Yellow Jackets.


"I didn’t even watch last year’s tape," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "We’re a different football team. We line up right. We line up fast. We’re a very good defense."


The Leopards had 390 yards passing, another 334 rushing and Denison (4-2, 3-0) is out to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself when the Jackets travel to Lovejoy (3-3, 1-2) for a District 13-4A contest at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.


"These kids seem to accept challenges," Rogers said. "They know Lovejoy’s offense is a challenge. It’s the best test our defense has seen."


So far Denison has proven to be a much better unit in 2013. At this time last season the Jackets had allowed 212 points in six games. This year that number is at 160. The nearly 10-point per game swing has helped a turnaround to where Denison is on a four-game winning streak — its longest since 2009.


The game not only will have an impact on the potential 13-4A championship because these two are essentially battling for playoff seeding in the Division II bracket. Lovejoy needs to win to keep hope alive for the top seed or else Denison will control its own destiny in that department. It’s a role reversal from when the Jackets sat at 1-2 and the Leopards were undefeated.


"We feel very comfortable with where we’re at," Bennett said. "And we look to keep it going."


Denison remained perfect in 13-4A after pulling away for a 34-10 victory against Royse City. The Jackets ran for 503 yards on 60 carries — the second time in three games with more than 500 rushing yards — and scored at least 33 points for the fourth straight game.


The Jackets’ second-half output is outpacing the first two quarters on both sides of the ball.


"I think it goes back to conditioning, the work they put in during the summer," Rogers said. "I don’t know why it’s not in the second quarter. It’s how you finish."


Khalil Brown had 174 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, Denard Whitfield ran for 162 yards and two TDs on 14 carries and Devon Blanton finished with 115 yards and two scores on 17 runs. Whitfield left in the game in the middle of the third quarter with a shoulder injury but will not miss any time.


Royse City finished with just 172 yards — 19 in the air — and had six three-and-outs on 10 possessions.


"Every week they get a little more confident," Rogers said.


The Leopards have been without standout sophomore quarterback Bowman Sells, who suffered an injury to his right (non-throwing) arm in the second game of the season. His timetable is unclear — he could return against the Jackets or miss the rest of the regular season.


"If he’s close, he’ll play. We’re game-planning for him and the other one," Rogers said. "They’ve got such a good offense that both of them are dangerous."


But the Leopards are in good hands with classmate Dakota Michaels. Michaels has completed 67-of-125 passes for 1,263 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions and is coming off his best outing of the season.


Last week against McKinney North, Michaels completed 24-of-46 passes for 518 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and ran for two scores. Lovejoy gained 696 yards and lost, 48-45, when a potential tying field goal in the final minute missed after a penalty wiped out a previously good try.


On the flip side, McKinney North got over 400 yards of rushing — Ronald Jones had 325 yards and 6 TDs on 24 carries while quarterback Ben Dutze ran 16 times for 112 yards and a score.


All told there were 93 points, 48 first downs and 1,206 yards of combined offense.


The weapons around Michaels are some of the same that hurt Denison a year ago. Dan Sefcik leads Lovejoy with 480 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries but Hunter Pfaff is right there with 338 yards and four TDs on 61 carries. Justice Luce has 36 catches for 891 yards and eight touchdowns while Aaron Fuller, Grant Jarvis and Sefcik all have double-digit catches for at least 200 yards, so Lovejoy can spread the ball around.


Outside of a district-opening 30-21 loss to Wylie, Lovejoy has scored at least 36 points in its other five games. The Leopards defense, conversely, has allowed at least 30 points in four contests — the exceptions being a 48-7 win over Greenville and a 45-13 win against Forney.


"They can put up points with either quarterback," Bennett said. "Either one is extremely tough."