Trending upwards: Leopards open playoffs with lopsided win over Hallsville
From its first-ever undefeated regular season and onto Friday's bi-district playoff game against Hallsville, the train kept rolling for the Lovejoy football team.
Albeit not until after a slow start, with the Leopards turning an early 7-3 deficit after one quarter into a lopsided 40-13 decision.
"It was a strange start for us," said Matt Green, Lovejoy head coach, "but I thought our kids responded real well to some early adversity."
The Leopards opened the game in customary fashion, marching 76 yards downfield and into the Hallsville red zone. Things went awry from there, with the Bobcats picking off freshman Bowman Sells. Lovejoy got the ball back one play later on a Hallsville fumble that was converted into a 23-yard field goal by junior Mick Ellis. But the Bobcats responded with a 15-play, 81-yard drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Macailyn Wilder to Coby Bradford and a 7-3 lead that held for the rest of the quarter.
It was just the third time all year Lovejoy has trailed after the opening frame.
The early Hallsville lead wouldn't last past two minutes into the second quarter, with senior Zach Saffle scoring on a 2-yard run for the first of 37 unanswered Lovejoy points.
"I think our kids got their feet under them and settled down a bit," Green said. "We also didn't turn the ball over after that and I think anytime you turn it over, you change both momentum and field position. Our kids got grounded a bit and stopped looking around so wide-eyed."
A 2-yard touchdown run was added by junior Dan Sefcik three minutes later and senior Thomas Kotecki returned an interception from Austin Toney 52 yards for a 24-7 Lovejoy lead at the half.
A running team by trade, the Bobcats' array of Wildcat packages was dashed with the lengthy deficit.
"[Hallsville] has a quarterback who is really shifty and running back who was very big and physical," Green said. "They did well as far as their scheme went, but I thought our kids tackled well and made some great plays on defense."
The Leopards limited Toney to just 101 yards passing on 9-of-23 attempts.
Senior Cullon Oldham-Greene, who led Lovejoy on the ground with 76 yards, opened the third with a 3-yard touchdown run with 7:10 left. Sefcik followed with a 45-yard touchdown catch to highlight a night that saw him total 232 yards of offense.
"[Sefcik] did a great job receiving," Green said. "He's explosive in the open field and finally got a chance to catch some balls and get out in the open where he made some kids miss."
Sells added 297 yards through the air and one touchdown on 17-of-23 attempts.
Ellis added a 33-yard field goal with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter to complete the Leopards' scoring effort -- their seventh game with at least 40 points.
That may come easier said than done Friday at 7:30 p.m. from Wildcat-Ram Stadium in Richardson when Lovejoy meets Lancaster in the area round.
"[Lancaster] is big and fast," Green said. "They're going to pose a threat to us. They do a great job controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides. Our kids are going to have to deal with that adversity, but we've played some teams that are big and talented, and I expect these kids to come out and play hard."
The Tigers enter the matchup with a 10-1 record and ranked No. 11 in the Class 4A AP state poll. Annually, Lancaster boasts one of the state's fastest teams and 2012 appears no different.
Green anticipates District 13-4A as having prepared the Leopards for the Tigers' speed, particularly with matchups against Wylie East and Sherman.
"The difference with Lancaster is that they're not going to throw it like Sherman did," Green said. "They're going to ground and pound you on offense and, defensively, they're big up front and will try to create some matchup problems that we'll have to handle."
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