The final stretch of Denison’s season brought a little bit of everything to the table. There was the inevitable trap game and the Jackets avoided the trap in a big way. This week there is the rivalry circled every season. In between was a measuring stick game against one of the best Class 5A programs and the showdown of undefeated teams had district title implications.
After the first quarter, the Jackets held a lead on the Denton Ryan Raiders. From that point on, Ryan controlled the contest in the 56-16 victory. Denison did some good things. They did some bad things too. And against a team that has lost only once in the last 24 games it has played, a mixed effort isn’t going to be good enough.
It was over when — Christauske Dove caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Sanders with 33 seconds left in the second quarter. It capped a nine-minute stretch where Ryan opened up a 28-2 lead. If the Jackets could have held the Raiders off the board right before the break at 21-2, there was some hope since Denison was getting the ball to start the third quarter. Instead, Ryan went up by four scores.
It was really over when — Sanders scored on a three-yard run with 2:30 left in the third quarter to give Ryan a 42-16 lead. Denison had scored twice in the third quarter, including right before this possession to make it 35-16 with 5:24 remaining in the frame. Get a stop and a score and its 35-23. That’s at least manageable. Sanders took Ryan 62 yards in seven plays, all but two of them involving him.
Player of the Game — Ryan running back Emani Bailey. The Jackets sat back and tried to force Spencer Sanders to beat them with his arm and he completed only 15-of-31 attempts for 201 yards. That opened things up for Bailey and the sophomore took advantage to the tune of 20 carries for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Included in that was an 80-yarder where he was dragged down at the 15. He came into the contest with 550 yards and five touchdowns for the season.
Play of the Game — Tra Smith returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown to give Ryan a 35-9 lead with 8:25 left in the third quarter. Denison opened the half with a touchdown drive to make it 28-9. Then the ensuing kickoff saw the Jackets force and recover a fumble at the Ryan 41. Denison gets to the end zone there and suddenly it’s 28-16 with a quarter and a half to play. The second play, however, saw Austin Emery flushed to his left and he waited too long to throw to D.J. Gray, allowing Smith to undercut the route for the interception and long return.
The good — When the first quarter was over, Denison not only had the lead; it held Ryan scoreless. Very few people the last couple of seasons can make that claim. The offense moved the ball on the Raiders. They put up more than 350 yards. The early defensive effort was really, really good. In particular, DeCurious Smith won the match-up against Ryan standout receiver Gabe Douglas, who is committed to Texas Tech. Special teams had good punt coverage and forced a safety and a turnover.
The bad — With a chance to win a share of the district title, the Jackets stumbled for the final three quarters. Denison had three possessions reach the Ryan five-yard line and came away with no points. That was a killer stat. The other was that Denison had three turnovers and the Raiders got two touchdowns off them when the game was still in the balance. That was the second killer stat. The Jackets allowed 550 yards of offense and Ryan scored on seven straight possessions from the second to the third quarter. A trifecta of killer stats. On special teams, a field goal was blocked.
District dish — In addition to Denison’s loss against Ryan, Rider beat Braswell, 42-28, and Sherman beat Wichita Falls, 51-26, with Denton having the bye. The standings have Ryan at 5-0, Denison and Rider at 4-1, Sherman at 3-2, Braswell and Denton at 1-4 and Wichita Falls at 0-6. This week Rider plays at Ryan on Thursday, Denton is at Braswell and Denison is at Sherman for some sort of contest involving a trophy. Wichita Falls has the bye. Playoff picture is set with Denton Ryan, Denison, Rider and Sherman in. Ryan and Sherman will go to the Division I bracket. Denison and Rider will go to the Division II bracket. Ryan is the top seed and Sherman the second seed for Division I. The final games will decide who is the top seed for Division II between Rider and Denison.
Stinging stats of the week — The 40-point margin was the worst loss by Denison since a 63-21 loss against Rider in 2007…It was the 25th time Denison has allowed at least 56 points in a game…Austin Emery moved to 14th on the Denison career passing list with 1,425 yards. He is 534 yards from the top 10…Emery is 126 yards from the top 25 in Denison all-time rushing…Emery scored the 175th point of his career a (17 touchdowns, 67 extra points, two field goals). He is 37 points from the top 10…Kenny Gaffney scored the 15th rushing touchdown of his career. He is 18 yards from the top 35 in Denison all-time rushing and 308 from the top 25…Ty McFail had a career-high 122 yards rushing on a career-high 19 carries…Cayden Earnhart tied his career-high with two catches…DeCurious Smith had a career-high 20 yards…Pierce Barker had a career-high seven yards rushing…Mateo Reyes recovered a fumble…Zaelin Wimbish forced a fumble…Denton Ryan finished with 14 penalties for 139 yards.