Denison falls flat in showdown with Lovejoy

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison's Jadarian Price looks for running room that was hard to come by in the Yellow Jackets' district loss to Lovejoy.

LUCAS — From the first play to almost the last one, the Yellow Jackets struggled in all three phases.

In a showdown between ranked teams as Denison opened up district play, it was the worst time to seemingly have everything go wrong.

Lovejoy took advantage of five turnovers, kept the Jackets from getting within 25 yards of the end zone and used a balanced attack to run away with a 49-7 victory over Denison in 7-5A (II) action.

"They lined up and kicked our butt. Simple as that," Denison head coach Brent Whitson said. "They were more physical than us. Much tougher than us."

If not for Kenyan Kelly's 18-yard yard fumble return down the right sideline with 3:18 remaining, the Jackets would have been shut out for the first time in 11 years. It had been since 2007, a 63-21 defeat to Wichita Falls Rider, that the program suffered such a lopsided loss.

“That’s the product of three bad practices this week. You play how you practice. That shouldn’t be the way the quote-unquote No. 7 team gets ready for the No. 3 team,” Whitson said.

Jadarian Price had 11 carries for 61 yards and three catches for 25 yards, Caleb Heavner completed 18-of-29 passes for 141 yards and Ty Kirkbride totaled six catches for 47 yards for Denison (2-1, 0-1), which hosts Prosper Rock Hill on Friday.

The Jackets managed only 180 yards, 115 of that in the first half, including 26 carries for 39 yards on the night.

"No offense production. No continuity," Whitson said. "We've got to go get better, play Rock Hill and go 7-1 in district and see where things fall."

Alexander Franklin was 14-of-22 passing for 247 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for a score, Noah Naidoo ran fir 95 yards on 13 carries and Parker Livingston finished with four receptions for 124 yards and a TD for Lovejoy (4-0, 2-0), which has the district bye on Friday.

The Leopards recovered three fumbles, including a dropped snap on a punt in the end zone that Bennett Slaughter fell on with 7:31 remaining to make it 42-0, and had two interceptions, the last Gabe Joyner brought back 21 yards for a score with 29 seconds left.

Denison held Lovejoy scoreless in the third quarter to give itself a chance to get back in the game down 28-0.

"We came back out with a purpose," Whitson said. "We were just unable to make anything happen (offensively)."

The Leopards went three-and-out to open the second half but Justin Lewis recovered a fumble at the Lovejoy 36 on Denison's first drive in the third.

The ensuing series got inside the Denison 40 but the Jackets forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-six. A first down and punt from midfield followed for Denison.

Lovejoy then had first-and-goal from the three but came away empty. De'Teaurean Johnson broke up a potential TD pass in the end zone on second down and Trenton Rucker missed a 21-yard field goal.

The Jackets went three-and-out and Lovejoy scored when it got the ball back. Matthew Mainord capped a seven-play drive with a 16-yard run less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

A pair of touchdown passes from Franklin, who was 11-of-13 for 204 yards to that point, in the final couple minutes of the second quarter pushed Lovejoy’s lead to 28-0 at the break.

Denison punted from its end on both prior possessions and the Leopards took over near midfield. They wasted little time scoring — Franklin found Livingston on a curl route to the left side and he took off to complete the 34-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes until half-time.

The Jackets went three-and-out and on the third snap of Lovejoy’s next drive, Jaxson Lavender hauled in a 40-yard TD with 23 seconds on the clock.

Early in the second quarter, Franklin scrambled for a 15-yard score on fourth-and-one for the 14-0 advantage.

Lovejoy had taken a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the game when Payton Pierce went behind center and took the direct snap for yards for the TD with 9:48 left in the first quarter.

The Leopards had two drives in the first half which didn’t end in points — the latter was a punt but the first was a stand by the Jackets after the Leopards had first-and-goal at the five and were a yard away from the end zone on fourth down. Franklin tried a delayed keeper to the right after looking left to fake a pass but Johnson led a group tackle that William Wallis and Jakobi DeHorney finished off for no gain.

Denison’s start to the game was extremely ominous. The Jackets' opening play was a fumble after Keegan Pruitt’s catch that Dillon Magee recovered for Lovejoy at the Denison 43.

After the Leopards scored in six snaps, it looked like the Jackets tied the game immediately on the ensuing drive. Heavner hit Dylan DeHorney in the right flat and he went down the sideline for what looked like a 54-yard TD pass but was called back due to holding.

Denison was eventually forced to punt — the first of five straight drives where that was the end result.

Only two of the Jackets’ seven first-half possessions entered Lovejoy territory with the best advance coming in the early stages of the second. Price started the series with a 19-yard run and then gained 13 yards on a catch to the Lovejoy 28. A second-down holding penalty sabotaged the drive from there.