A year after too many games saw opponents piling up points against a talented, but inexperienced group of Yellow Jackets, there needed to be a change.
And while it may only be one game, the trend is heading in a better direction.
“They’re so coachable. It’s going to be a good test Thursday night,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “You need to do what you’re coached to do. They are so athletic and really get to the ball.”
That test for the unit comes a day early this week as Denison (1-0) travels to Frisco (0-1) for a non-district contest tonight at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Three times in 2016 the Jackets allowed at least 56 points and another saw them give up 41. There were pockets of success, however, for a group that by the end of the year was made up by just as many freshmen and sophomores as juniors and seniors. They had a month-long stretch without giving up more than three touchdowns per contest.
“They’re young but there’s plenty of them that have experience,” Rogers said. “We got a lot of experience last year, both good and bad, and I think that’s paying off.”
With such a large core returning for coordinator Todd Wallis, the expectations were laid out. Against Paris and North Lamar in scrimmages, the first-team defense didn’t allow a touchdown. Last week was a promising start in the games that count. Continuing that effort is key.
“It’s really the motor mostly,” senior defensive end Keyshawn Tubbs said. “We attack. It works. Whatever Coach Wallis calls, we do it.”
The Yellow Jackets opened with a 28-24 victory against Trinity Christian-Addison as Ty McFail caught a touchdown pass and ran for a score, Austin Emery had 18 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown to go with the TD throw and Javen Stewart recovered a fumble in the end zone on special teams.
Denison was down 17-0 in the middle of the second quarter, cut the deficit to three points at half-time and scored on back-to-back possessions in the latter stages of the third quarter to take the lead for good.
“We couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Rogers said. “We made some adjustments and changed some formations.”
The Jackets allowed just 144 yards on 74 plays, including less than a yard per carry (50 rushes for 49 yards) and held Trinity Christian-Addison to points on just one of its final nine possessions to allow the comeback to take place. McFail had 15 tackles (12 solo), while Cade Gordy and Jordin Hunter each chipped in 12 total tackles apiece.
“We went in there and did what we had to do,” Tubbs said. “We didn’t want to get beat.”
When the team’s met last season, Frisco was riding its flexbone attack to an 8-3 record and playoff appearance that included a 34-21 victory over the Jackets. But the three Raccoons who did almost all of that damage — Jamal Stanfield (152 yards and four touchdowns on just seven carries), Kyle Redington (27 carries for 124 yards) and Caden Wright (17 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown) — graduated.
“They do a good job doing what they do,” Rogers said. “They’re going to try and shorten the game with that offense.”
Frisco opened this season with a 31-21 loss against Frisco Centennial in District 13-5A action as part of a day-long intradistrict match-ups at The Star.
Heath Yetter led the Raccoons with 117 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while Bryson Clemons and Carter Yates added touchdown runs.
Centennial led 21-7 at half-time before Frisco cut the deficit to 28-21 late in the third quarter. Despite the loss, Frisco still ran for 351 yards on 55 attempts (6.4 per carry) and actually threw nine passes.
Centennial had its success on the ground as well with 32 carries for 214 yards (6.7 an attempt) while completing just 6-of-17 passes for 114 yards.
Both Yates and Jack Marshall split snaps at quarterback with Marshall faring better as a passer and Yates doing better on the ground with 12 carries for 47 yards and a TD. Eight different Raccoons had carries with Yates, Yetter and Cleamons all getting to double digits and Nick Stanton ran eight times for 48 yards.
Also missing from last season are a pair of big contributors on the offensive line — guard Dawson Deaton and tackle Jack Anderson were first-team all-district picks and are now freshmen at Texas Tech.
On defense, there are holes for Frisco to fill, including a pair of all-district selections both on the line and in the secondary,
Leading the unit this season are seniors Dylan Horton, a two-star safety according to Rivals who has committed to SMU and was first-team all-district, Pierce DeVaughn, who is a two-star defensive end and three-year starter coming off a second-team all-district selection and Dan Ton, who was a second-team all-district pick at outside linebacker.
“That defensive line plays well,” Rogers said. “Those linebackers come downhill in a hurry.”