There was a lot of first-round craziness this past weekend — more than normal it seemed. Over the course of three days there were shocking scores, crazy finishes and a feeling that maybe things were a little bit different. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, Denison was one of those teams caught in the vortex of bi-district blemishes. There wouldn’t be a normal outcome and simply moving on to the next round. It was a crushing end to the most successful season in nearly a decade as Saginaw Boswell rallied to eliminated the Jackets, 39-35, in the final minute of their match-up. There were a lot of good things to come of out of 2017. Eight victories. A district runner-up finish and top seed for its bracket. Another Ax victory to extend that streak. The end came sooner than anyone would have liked.
It was over when — Breshun Berry caught a 23-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left in the game to fashion the final 39-35 score. The throw from Brayden Thomas came on third-and-six, so if the Jackets got a stop it would have most likely led to a tying field goal attempt (albeit from 40 yards) or a fourth-down play. Instead Berry was able to make the grab in the end zone and leave little time for a Denison offense that hadn’t done a lot through the air up to that point.
It was really over when — Austin Emery was sacked on the final play of the game. A pair of penalties pushed back the kickoff and Denison started right at midfield with 30 seconds left. A first-down pass picked up 12 yards and Denison used its last timeout. First-and-10 at the Boswell 38. 16 seconds on the clock. But the Jackets wouldn’t get off another snap as Emery was converged on by a pair of Pioneers as time ran out.
Player of the Game — Boswell wide receiver Breshun Berry. He entered the match-up as the most dangerous of the Pioneers and he lived up to the billing. Berry had five catches for 134 yards (26.8 yards per catch) and had touchdown receptions of 15, 54 and 23 yards. His middle TD was right out of half-time and his last was the game-winner. He also had a 41-yard punt return right before half-time that led to Boswell getting points off a field goal.
Play of the Game — There are a lot of choices, both obvious or not. I’m going to go with Braydon Roberts’ 28-yard catch late in the third quarter. First, the setup. Boswell just kicked a field goal to trail 28-23. Denison started its drive with 4:14 left in the third. They got just beyond midfield and faced third-and-14. The Jackets had mainly kept the ball on the ground. Emery was able to connect with Roberts along the right sideline and he stayed inbounds at the Boswell 19. An incompletion there and Denison punts, giving the Pioneers a chance to jump in front 30-28 going to the fourth/early in the fourth. Instead, five plays later Denison scored for a 35-23 lead.
The good — Denison jumped out early in this one and never trailed until the fateful touchdown. The offense put up 35 points, more than it did last year against Boswell. The passing game was efficient when used. D.J. Gray made a pair of big touchdown catches, one with a nice snag where he also managed to get his feet down and the second he got drilled (to the point it knocked him out for the rest of the game) and was able to hang on. Defensively the Jackets held a high-powered offense in check for 45 minutes. Denison came up with a pair of goal line stands and a red zone stop that led to three field goals instead of a trio of touchdowns. Special teams recovered a muffed punt, covered Boswell’s onside kick attempt, stopped a fake punt and won the battle of field position on punts.
The bad — Denison’s season came to an end in heart-breaking fashion. Denison scored 35 points through three quarters and then came up empty. It had three chances to put the game away in Boswell territory and couldn’t, including a fumble (that wasn’t really a fumble when the replay was shown) when trying to run out the clock with just under two minutes left. The defense gave up a pair of touchdown drives in the final four minutes that turned a 35-23 lead into the 39-35 loss. Boswell went 80 yards on the first and 75 on the second. Special teams gave up the long punt return to Berry. And I’m not one to rail against officials but the final couple of minutes were brutal. Like really brutal.
District dish — It was not a good bi-district round for 5-5A. In addition to Denison’s loss against Boswell, Sherman lost to V.R. Eaton, 26-21, and Rider lost against Aledo, 72-13. Denton Ryan did beat Fort Worth Brewer, 42-17, and advanced to the area round to take on Birdville.
Stinging stats of the week — Denison is still seeking its first playoff win since 2009…Boswell eliminated Denison for the second straight season in the bi-district round…The Jackets ran the ball 74 times, breaking the school record of 73 set in 2003 against Sulphur Springs. It was the second time this season and third in the last two years they ran at least 70 times in a game…Austin Emery finished his career 14th on the Denison career passing list with 1,653 yards. He became the 10th Yellow Jacket to throw at least 15 TD passes in a career…Emery’s 1,232 yards passing this season is the 9th most by a Denison QB…Emery finished his career 22nd on the Denison all-time rushing list with 1,467 yards. He became the 20th Yellow Jacket with at least 20 rushing touchdowns in a career…Emery finished the season with 1,058 rushing yards, the 27th 1,000-yard season in school history and the 25th-best…Emery moved to 11th on the Denison career scoring list and finished with 205 points (20 touchdowns, 79 extra points, two field goals). His 2017 season ranks as the 11th highest-scoring season in school history (146 points — 15 touchdowns, 53 field goals, 1 field goal)…Kenny Gaffney finished his career 35th on the Denison all-time rushing list with 1,126 yards….D.J. Gray moved to a tie for 17th in Denison career touchdown catches with six…Bubba Roberts finished his career 55th on the Denison all-time rushing list with 729 yards…Emery had a career-high 36 carries…Dalton Souther recovered an onside kick…Ty McFail recovered a muffed punt.