Scouting reports can come from anywhere. Just ask Nate Maulsby.
The Denison senior linebacker had one of the Yellow Jackets’ five interceptions against Princeton, returning it 31 yards for a touchdown as the momentum-swinging play in a 45-20 victory in District 7-5A (II) action at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium on Friday night.
After Brendon Strickland had found some holes in the Jacket defense to give the Panthers an early lead, he planned on continuing that trend after Princeton fell behind for the first time early in the third quarter.
“I kinda keyed on it,” Maulsby said about the turnover right at him in the right flat. “One of the JV linebackers said they ran it a lot the night before so when I saw them bunched up in the formation I scooted out a bit and the quarterback eyed me and I dropped to where I could make the play.”
Maulsby’s return highlighted a four-touchdown quarter that turned a four-point half-time deficit into a blowout as Denison (3-2, 2-1) grinded out 75 carries — a school record besting last year’s bi-district loss to Boswell by a single attempt — that averaged nearly five yards a pop.
“The long touchdown drive and Nate’s touchdown, that gave us life,” Rogers said. “We knew they were going to throw the ball. They worked us over early.”
Princeton (1-3, 0-2) was unable to overcome the interceptions — three coming on consecutive drives in the third quarter — as the Jackets pulled away.
“We had to get pressure on him, make him uncomfortable in the pocket and I think we did a good job of that,” Maulsby said. “Did what we needed to do. Just do your job.”
Denison opened the third quarter with an 11-play drive to take the lead, 17-14, on Cade Gordy’s 24-yard pass to Zaelin Wimbish.
The first play on Princeton’s ensuing drive was Maulsby’s pick. On the third play of the Panthers’ next possession, Strickland thought he had a free play but no penalty was called. He lofted it deep down the right side and Keleon Vaughn ran under it for his second straight week with an interception.
Wimbish had the big play — a 37-yard receiver pass to Kyrion Rosser, who was brought down at the six. After a penalty Rosser, who totaled 104 yards on 22 carries, had a more conventional catch from Gordy for a nine-yard score and it was 31-14 with 4:44 left in the quarter.
“All I had to do was catch it. I knew it was coming to me and I was trying to score on it,” Rosser said. “We went in at half and knew we had to get everything going. I think our tempo, we took advantage with that.”
On the third play of Princeton’s next series, it was Camden Wheeler’s turn for an interception and Denison started at the Panthers 30-yard line. Jadarian Price, who finished with 31 carries for 159 yards, scored on an eight-yard run.
Princeton did get on the board when Maika Brinkerhoff caught a 14-yard TD pass from Strickland with 7:51 left before Darius Franklin capped Denison’s victory with a one-yard touchdown run in the final minutes off the final interception of the night, this one by Wimbish.
“They were like a group of piranhas,” Rogers said. “They smelled blood and they feasted on it.”
Denison had the only scoring in the second quarter to cut its deficit to 14-10 at half-time. Backed up after a punt, the Jackets marched 91 yards on 12 plays — all on the ground — and Rosser’s second-effort through the left side of the line finished off an eight-yard TD run with 6:54 left until the break.
Following their early success, the Panthers didn’t produce much on three second-quarter drives. The only one which reached Denison territory ended with a fourth-down interception by DeCurious Smith at the four-yard line.
Princeton came out firing and scored on two of its first three possessions for the early lead. Strickland had three completions over 20 yards and two others for more than 11 yards.
The Panthers received the opening kickoff, started near midfield and needed just four plays to reach the end zone. Tristan Gee capped the drive with a 28-yard TD grab from Strickland less than two minutes into the game.
Denison had the makings of a scoring drive going the other way, quickly finding itself past midfield but Price was stopped short on a fourth-and-one run at the Princeton 42.
After trading possessions, the Jackets got on the board. Denison ran 14 plays that covered 69 yards before settling on a 25-yard field goal by Reece Stange with 3:25 left in the first.
On the ensuing series, Princeton took a 14-3 advantage. The Panthers started at midfield and Brinkerhoff finished off the drive with a 21-yard touchdown grab on third-and-14 with just over a minute remaining in the quarter.
Denison ran 47 plays in the first half, 17 more than the Panthers, but the early breakdowns forced the Jackets into comeback mode. Price nearly cracked 100 yards in the first two quarters, sitting at 98 on 17 carries, while Rosser went into the second half with 16 carries for 79 yards.