The moment Denison had not only climbed back into the game but taken the lead was a testament to the Jackets’ resolve after overcoming a sloppy and lethargic beginning.

The moment Denison had not only climbed back into the game but taken the lead was a testament to the Jackets’ resolve after overcoming a sloppy and lethargic beginning.

Unfortunately the momentum, and the strong play that got them ahead, disappeared for the Yellow Jackets as Lovejoy defeated Denison, 55-42, in the District 10-5A opener at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium on Friday night.

"I didn’t have us ready to play," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "I’m disappointed in myself."

Hunter Pfaff, Chase Tucker and Aaron Fuller each scored two touchdowns for Lovejoy (1-3, 1-0), which defeated Denison (2-2, 0-1) for the third straight season and scored at least 54 points in every meeting.

Two turnovers and 13 penalties for 126 yards, including some back-breaking drive-deciders, plagued the Jackets throughout.

"I’ve got to get them ready mentally," Rogers said. "That’s discipline."

Devon Blanton threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns while adding 135 yards and a TD on 18 carries and Steven Wagoner scored twice, including a kickoff return, to lead Denison.

A final rally attempt was snuffed out when Kevin Davis returned a fumble 76 yards for a touchdown with 2:53 remaining. As Wagoner was fighting for extra yards, Davis ripped the ball out and headed the other way to give Lovejoy a 55-35 lead.

The Jackets scored in two plays, the last a 45-yard touchdown catch by Drew Marr where he spun out of a tackle on the far sideline, but the Leopards recovered the onside kick.

"If we could get a quick stop I thought we had a chance," Rogers said. "I thought we would find a way to pull it out by a point. We’re going to fight to the end."

Denison had a chance to make things even more interesting since it had all three timeouts but was unable to force a punt until six seconds were left and that led to a scary finish as Caleb Ross was taken off the field on a stretcher after the kick. Ross was able to move his extremities and Rogers reported he was OK late Friday night. Marr, who had four catches for 79 yards, also injured an ankle on the play.

Denison had the ball to start the second half and a chance to take the lead but the Jackets weren’t able to go in front until Devan Patterson’s 20-yard touchdown run late in the third. The lead lasted only 20 seconds as Lovejoy opened the next drive with a reverse flea-flicker and two plays later Pfaff had a 35-yard TD run.

The Jackets turned the ball over on downs on the next series and Pfaff found the end zone again, from three yards out, to give the Leopards a 41-28 advantage.

A 12-play drive by Denison was capped by Hunter Watson’s 25-yard, fourth-down catch in the end zone against two defenders to pull the Jackets within a score midway through the fourth. The Jackets couldn’t get a stop, however, and the Leopards once again extended the lead when Tucker scored from a yard out two minutes later.

Tucker and Pfaff combined for 193 yards on 27 carries while Bowman Sells was 11-of-17 for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Lovejoy opened the game with Sells on the sideline for disciplinary reasons and McDaniel behind center and the dropoff was next to nothing. The Leopards drove 82 yards on 10 plays, keyed by a 31-yard reverse pass from Fuller to Steven Prudhomme and capped by Pfaff’s 13-yard TD run.

"We figured he wouldn’t play the first couple series. The guy they had in there moved them well. They scored on both drives," Rogers said. "Their offense is their offense."

Denison failed to get a first down on its first series and Lovejoy needed just three plays for a 13-o advantage. McDaniel found Fuller behind two defenders in the end zone on a 37-yard pass before Pfaff’s conversion run failed.

That had the Jackets scrambling to play catch-up for the next two quarters. Denison cut the deficit in half on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Blanton to Wagoner with 2:43 left in the first quarter. The teams traded possessions — Denison’s ended with a Blanton interception in Lovejoy territory — before four touchdowns were scored in the final five and a half minutes of the second quarter.

Not only did the Leopards go ahead 20-7 to start the spurt, Denison lost Brendon Luper to an ejection for targeting on a dubious call in the middle of the drive. That changed both safety spots for the Jackets, with Jamond Wilson moving into Luper’s role and Ross entering the lineup.

Wagoner got the points back five seconds later when Lovejoy tried an onside kick but the first wave of Leopards arrived just as the junior snatched the ball along the front line and there was no one to stop him from going 52 yards down the left sideline.

Sells connected with McDaniel for a 75-yard touchdown pass deep down the right sideline with just 1:34 left in the half to open a two-touchdown advantage. Denison was able to answer with just seconds to spare.

A third-down pass interference call put the Jackets in Lovejoy territory and another personal foul on a third-down completion with 34 seconds left had Denison at the Leopard 25. Marr picked up 13 yards on the next play and then drew a pass interference call in the end zone.

Blanton scored from two yards out with seven seconds left on the clock to cut the deficit to six and the home team getting the ball coming out of the locker room.