DENTON — There were so many plays in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that it was going to be hard to pick out the one which changed the outcome. It was something the Denison Yellow Jackets weren't going to dwell on.
“I don't think it's one play that makes the difference, not any one thing to blame,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “Thought we had won the game a couple of times. You can't say these guys didn't fight, compete in every game they played.”
After holding a 10-point lead with the ball in Saginaw Boswell territory midway through the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets were unable to hold off the Pioneers' comeback attempt that had Brayden Thomas connect with Breshun Berry for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 54 seconds left to give Boswell a 39-35 victory over Denison in a Class 5A Division II Region I bi-district game at Apogee Stadium on Friday night.
Boswell (10-1) will face Richland (9-2), a 62-31 winner against Fort Worth Southwest, in the area round later this week.
Thomas, who was 22-of-42 for 329 yards and four touchdowns, had a 22-yard touchdown pass to Dutch Patterson with 3:06 remaining to cut the deficit to three points. Dalton Souther recovered the onside kick just short of midfield and Denison (8-3) was looking to run out the clock.
“We get one first down and we can run out the clock,” Rogers said. “They only had two timeouts and we could probably take 80 seconds off. No reason to hang their heads. Proud of the kids and the coaches and their effort.”
Two players later Ty McFail was ruled to have fumbled at the Boswell 25 with 1:55 remaining — the Jumbotron replay showed otherwise — and that gave the Pioneers a chance. Brandon Chatman had back-to-back catches of 20 and 31 yards and three plays later on third-and-six Berry caught the game-winner.
Denison's attempt to pull out the win started right at midfield with 30 seconds left. A pass netted 12 yards but with 16 seconds left, Austin Emery, who had 36 carries for 143 yards as Denison broke the school record with 74 rushing attempts, was sacked and time ran out.
A safety at the start of the fourth quarter gave the Pioneers a 16-0 advantage in the final 12 minutes. Emery scored on runs of two and six yards in the third quarter, the last coming in the final minute to counter a 54-yard TD catch by Berry to open the second half and a 31-yard field goal by Oscar Ronquillo.
The Jackets carried that 35-23 lead to the fourth. Even after the safety, the Jackets had two straight possessions in Boswell territory they couldn't finish off and make it a three-score game. The first came after a 16-yard punt set Denison up at the Boswell 42. Denison went three-and-out.
The Jackets forced Boswell to go three-and-out and Denison took over at the Pioneers 49. After a first down, the drive stalled. Denison punted and a roughing the punter penalty was waived off, which would have been a first down to the red zone with just over four minutes left, but the officials said Emery was lined up seven yards behind the center and not the eight needed for the flag to stand.
Boswell took advantage of a pair of penalties on the first play to get 30 free yards to midfield and five plays later Patterson scored.
Denison held a 21-13 half-time lead on the strength of some early offense and some late defense.
The teams traded punts to open the game and the Jackets did so on its second possession but Berry muffed the kick near the left sideline and McFail fell on it at the Boswell 28.
It took just five plays from there for Denison to score and D.J. Gray hauled in the 11-yard touchdown pass from Emery with some fancy footwork along the right side of the end zone. Emery was scrambling that way and got the throw over a leaping defender that Gray snagged and was able to stay inbounds in the middle of the first quarter.
The Jackets' went up 14-0 with 4:29 left in the first after stopping a fake punt. The Pioneers reached the Denison 45 when deciding to fake the kick on fourth-and-three. The direct snap to upback Holden Dunn was stopped after a yard.
Bubba Roberts was able to break free on a 35-yard touchdown run to the left, freezing a defender with a move downfield.
Boswell immediately had an answer with a 10-play drive that was capped by Thomas hitting Berry for a 15-yard TD in the back right corner of the end zone and the Pioneers halved their deficit going to the second quarter.
The ensuing Denison possession covered 67 yards in 11 plays and only the last one was through the air as Emery's play-action pass found Gray for an eight-yard touchdown with 10:42 left in the half for a 21-7 advantage. Gray was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the catch.
Denison had only two more possessions before the break and one of them ended at the Boswell 37 when Emery went under center to try and draw the Pioneers offsides on fourth-and-three. The eventual snap was fumbled.
Prior to that Boswell made it a 21-10 game on Ronquillo's 25-yard field goal. The Pioneers got a 42-yard catch and run by Patterson to the Denison eight but the drive stalled there. Denison held and the Pioneers were going to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the three before a penalty backed them up.
Boswell scored before the half when Berry returned a punt 41 yards to the Denison 18 with 54 seconds remaining in the quarter. Jordin Hunter's first-down sack of 16 yards was overcome by a 29-yard pass to the Denison five.
The Jackets again came up with a stop from there and Ronquillo made a 20-yard field goal as the half expired.