LUCAS — It was another long run in a game full of them and this one was set to spark Denison’s potential game-winning drive late in the middle of the fourth quarter. When a penalty flag appeared, however, calling back Denard Whitfield’s 40-plus yard run down the right sideline, the Yellow Jackets’ opportunity had passed.

LUCAS — It was another long run in a game full of them and this one was set to spark Denison’s potential game-winning drive late in the middle of the fourth quarter. When a penalty flag appeared, however, calling back Denard Whitfield’s 40-plus yard run down the right sideline, the Yellow Jackets’ opportunity had passed.


Lovejoy took the lead back three plays later — on a long TD run by Chochy Luce — and the Leopards went on to defeat Denison, 56-42, in District 13-4A action on Friday night.


The Jackets were done in by three turnovers deep in their territory and costly penalties on both sides of the ball that kept them from winning their fifth game in a row.


"Didn’t play really good. Stuff that we hadn’t done," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "Turnovers at the wrong time. Penalties at the wrong time. That’s the difference in the game."


The defeat knocked Denison (4-3, 3-1) down into a three-way tie with Wylie — which the Jackets host on Friday — and Wylie East for first place. Lovejoy (3-3, 2-2), Sherman and McKinney North are all a game behind the leaders with three weeks remaining.


"How they respond this week will be the mark of what type of team they they want to be," Rogers said.


Early on the Jackets overcame a 22-6 deficit less than four minutes into the game but the mistakes throughout, as well as the return of Leopards quarterback Bowman Sells, proved too much to overcome.


Sells, who missed the last month with a broken collarbone, completed 17-of-30 passes for 226 yards and four touchdowns as the defending district champs jumped back into the race. Lovejoy also finished with 298 yards rushing


"They had their backs against the wall," Rogers said. "They’re a different team with with him at quarterback confidence-wise."


Four of Denison’s touchdown runs came from at least 52 yards away, the last right at that distance by Devon Blanton with 7:35 left in the game. Blanton found Denard Whitfield for the two-point conversion to tie the score at 42, the first time the Jackets were even with Lovejoy since the opening minutes.


The teams combined for 1,043 yards with 797 coming on the ground.


For the third time this season, three Yellow Jackets ran for at least 100 yards. Colton Henslee had 194 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, Whitfield finished with 168 yards and three touchdowns on 14 attempts and Blanton totaled 129 yards on 15 carries.


Denison forced the Leopards to punt on the ensuing possession and were 80 yards from the lead. Whitfield looked to get half that on the first play before a holding call nullified the gain. The Jackets punted and Lovejoy jumped ahead on the next drive.


Seventy-five yards stood in Denison’s way to force overtime before the Jackets turned the ball over on downs at their 23 with 1:23 left. Blanton was unable to push a deep pass to Jaleel Dade, who had no one around him in the middle of the field, into the wind on first-and-15 that at worst would have set up Denison at midfield or could have had Lovejoy scrambling to reach OT.


Denison’s running attack was slowed in the second half due to a pair of fumbles and Lovejoy disregarding any notion the Jackets were going to pass. Blanton threw, and completed, just one pass in the first half and didn’t attempt another until the final minutes of the game.


After running for 303 yards in the first half, the Jackets totaled just 155 on eight second-half drives with the game in the balance. Denison averaged 12.1 yards per carry for the game and was one yard shy of running for at least 500 for the third time in five games.


"Still we were getting by," Rogers said. "Penalties are hard to overcome."


Lovejoy turned a pair of fumble recoveries at the Denison 20-yard line into touchdowns passes to Luce and Grant Jarvis. This first was part of three touchdowns over 60 yards in the span of five first-quarter plays.


Denison clawed to within 35-28 at half-time on touchdown runs by Whitfield and Henslee, the latter a 70-yard run to start a drive. Quashawn Carrell came up with an interception at the Denison 13 and Whitfield scored and ran in the conversion to make it a one-point deficit at 29-28.


After Wade Walters’ first extra point went off the upright and Lovejoy converted a two-point pass on its third TD, Denison went for two the rest of the night, converting three of them, in hopes of gaining a lead on the Leopards.


"I thought we could get ahead of them. It was more of a statement," Rogers said. "Force them to do something."


Lovejoy was going to settle for a 26-yard field goal with a minute and a half left in the second quarter when Denison stopped them to bring up fourth and six at the nine-yard line. Mick Ellis’ kick was good but Carrell jumped offsides and Lovejoy scored on the next play for a three-point swing and 35-28 advantage after the two-point pass failed.


When Denison scored two plays into the second half and was stopped on its two-point try, the Jackets trailed 35-34 instead of taking a 34-32 lead and kept them in catch-up mode for the rest of the time. Denison came up with a goal line stand inches from the end zone in the middle of the third quarter to end a Lovejoy drive and flipped the field with a punt and penalty to back the Leopards up to their 18.


But the teams followed by trading fumbles on consecutive plays with Lovejoy’s offense being the one to take full advantage.