By the middle of the second quarter, the Denison offense was struggling to find an identity against Denton.
The Jackets went to the sky, hoping to continue the success they had in their first two district games. But after being thwarted on the first couple of possessions, which saw one completion in nine attempts, it went full speed ahead with a ground attack that was chewing up yards.
“Once we got moving, we were moving,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “We were hit and miss, hot and cold. We asked them what they thought would work. Once we get in a rhythm, you can tell.”
Three Yellow Jackets had 100-yard rushing efforts as Denison pulled away to beat Denton, 35-14, in 5-5A action at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium on Friday night.
Austin Emery had 26 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns, Ty McFail finished with 116 yards and a TD on nine carries and Kenny Gaffney totaled 18 carries for 105 yards and a score for Denison (6-1, 3-0), which can clinch a playoff spot this week with a win against Denton Braswell.
“We were prepared all week. They were going to show a three-man front and that’s what we got,” senior guard Talon Moore said. “To go out there and do what we do for the backs and the quarterback, we work hard every week and get pushed by our coaches. We’re working together to get to the playoffs.”
The Jackets ran 72 times — one short of the school record set back in 2003 — for 429 yards and threw the ball only once in the second half.
“We had a little bumpy start but then we stepped up our game,” Gaffney said. “As long as we be patient and hit the holes, follow the o-line then you’ll pick up yards. Whatever we were doing well we were gonna stick with it.”
Denton (3-5, 1-3) wasn’t able to match Denison after the break, gaining just a single yard across six possessions, including third-quarter fumble recoveries for Dayveion Lewis and Bralynn Ramsey. The Broncos finished with 200 yards and gained just 66 on 29 carries. Landry Kinne was 7-of-20 for 134 yards with much of that going to Isaiah Wofford (four receptions for 106 yards) before the receiver dislocated his knee after an incomplete pass with nine minutes left in the third.
“He got very uncomfortable and that’s a credit to our defensive line and our linebackers,” Rogers said. “The turnovers were big.”
The Jackets held a seven-point lead until the latter stages of the third quarter. Denison went on an 80-yard drive in 11 plays and Emery scored on a five-yard keeper through the right side with 2:24 left in the frame.
Ramsey recovered a fumble on the first play of Denton’s ensuing drive at the Broncos 26-yard-line and Gaffney took the direct snap from the three and his second effort pushed him across the goal line for the 35-14 advantage right before the fourth quarter started.
The Broncos never threatened to score in the final two quarters, running just five plays in Denison territory — all of them barely past midfield.
Denton almost tied the game at 21 right before half-time when Wofford caught a 28-yard touchdown pass along the right sideline but a penalty wiped out the play with seven seconds left and Denison was able hold on to its seven-point lead at the break.
It would have been a fitting finish to a quarter that saw four straight TD possessions after the first 12 minutes went scoreless.
McFail got the Jackets on the board on the first play of the second quarter when he broke free through the right side for a 74-yard touchdown run. Denison forced a three-and-out and then was on the move but turned the ball over on downs at the Denton 29.
Kinne ended the ensuing Broncos drive with a scrambling 11-yard dump-off TD throw to Xylohn Posey in the middle of the frame to tie the score.
Denison needed just eight plays — all runs — to go back in front on Emery’s two-yard sneak with just over three minutes left in the half.
Elijah Thibodeaux immediately answered with an 88-yard kickoff return for a score, getting to the right sideline as he approached midfield and somehow stayed inbounds.
Denton tried an onside kick and was also penalized on the play, setting up Denison at the Bronco 36. It was another all-ground attack and Emery kept it from three yards out for the 21-14 lead with 1:49 before the break.
Denison opened the game with a 67-yard kickoff return by Bubba Roberts to the Denton 35 and squandered the field position by turning the ball over on downs at the 18.
Emery was intercepted on the Jackets’ next drive, which reached the 26. Thibodeaux picked it off deep over the middle and the return, plus a penalty, gave Denton a scoring opportunity starting from the Denison 33.
The Jackets came up with a goal-line stand and Rasmey blocked the 25-yard field goal attempt with a rush straight up the middle.