If anything could go wrong for the Denison Yellow Jackets in the first quarter and a half of action, it seemingly did.
Special teams had some problems. Offense couldn’t get in a rhythm. Defense was in bad spots.
The deficit was not insurmountable — although the 17-point margin may have felt that way — and sometimes the best-laid plans don’t end up how you want, like when a fourth-down pass is headed to a player who can’t believe it because, in his words, “I can’t catch.”
So that is how Denison’s comeback bid started. It was a TD grab by Ty McFail to jump-start things and it was the run he scored on late in the third quarter that proved to be the difference as the Jackets defeated Trinity Christian-Addison, 28-24, in the season-opener at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium on Friday night.
Denison spotted the Trojans a 17-0 advantage thanks to some special teams mistakes before riding a defense that swarmed the TCA running attack to the tune of 50 attempts for 49 yards, which let the Jacket offense work out the kinks.
“Their character was tested, just hanging in there,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “Down 17 points, nothing going your way. They kept going. Don’t count us out.”
The Trojans extended their lead to 24-14 with 5:27 left in the third on a 20-yard touchdown screen pass from Michael Callahan to Cody Henson. The drive started there after a muffed punt — the fourth special teams mistake of the night. Denison had muffed the second-half kickoff but the Jackets forced a turnover on downs.
Trinity Christian finished with just 144 yards on 74 plays.
“The defense played great. You can’t take anything away from them, even with the positions we kept putting them in,” Rogers said.
The Jackets had an immediate answer, scoring less than a minute later to trim the margin back to three. Austin Emery, who had 18 carries for 87 yards, ripped off a 17-yard run across midfield before making a nice cut on a 38-yard TD run to the left side.
Trinity Christian went three-and-out and Denison was ready to punch in the go-ahead score. The eight-play drive covered 67 yards and McFail broke loose for the 18-yard touchdown with 1:47 left in the third for what turned out to be the final points of the night.
The Trojans had four cracks at the go-ahead score but the best chance ended when Zaelin Wimbish intercepted a pass deep over the middle at the Denison 15-yard line. Two other drives last only three plays and TCA’s final possession involved a snap over Callahan’s head on third-and-long that lost 21 yards to the TCA five with a few minutes left.
They elected to punt and Denison got inside the five-yard line before kneeling out the clock.
“We kept it positive, kept it moving and didn’t focus on that negative stuff,” McFail said.
After the brutal start, the Yellow Jackets got things going in the final eight minutes of the second quarter.
The Trojans had just taken a 17-0 lead on a 22-yard field goal by David Asche after Denison held on first-and-goal at the three.
When Trinity Christian had the ball next, Callahan scrambled, fumbled and Logan Wagner recovered at the TCA 36-yard-line. It looked like the Jackets would waste that starting point but McFail caught a swing pass to the right side — on fourth-and-seven — for a 22-yard TD with 5:24 remaining in the half.
A quick three-and-out by the Trojans, started on a Jordin Hunter sack, set up the next touchdown. The snap went over Asche’s head and McFail ran the punter down near the goal line, forcing a fumble that Javen Stewart fell on in the end zone with four minutes left before the break.
Trinity Christian had a chance to extend the lead with a drive that reached the Denison nine-yard line before Asche pushed a 26-yard field goal attempt wide to the right as the half was about to expire.
The Trojans built that lead thanks to some special teams miscues. A bad snap on a punt led to Emery being tackled at the Denison 11. TCA was going to kick a field goal on fourth-and-one at the two before using a time-out and changing its mind. Callahan picked up the yard and then plunged in two plays later.
DeCurious Smith blocked the extra point off the left edge.
Denison then went three-and-out and Emery’s punt was deflected as the Trojans began at the Jacket 28-yard-line. William Kennedy capped that drive with a five-yard TD catch and Caleb McCabe caught a deflected two-point conversion in the end zone.
Denison had just 56 yards across six drives in the first half, half of them going the minimum three snaps.
“We never got in a rhythm. We had plenty of opportunities to,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to shore up some things on offense.”