It’s the playoff game before the playoff game, and a win doesn’t even guarantee that the Denison Yellow Jackets will keep on playing.
“We are treating it that way. The whole week is a playoff week,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “Win and we can keep playing. Worry about things we can control.”
That is the situation as the Jackets seek a third straight postseason appearance. It will be a two-pronged outcome as Denison (5-4, 4-3) travels to Denton Braswell (3-6, 3-4) for the District 7-5A (II) finale at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs and we’re keeping the right mindset,” senior defensive back Christian McNealy said. “We’ve gotta keep it together as a team. We have been working harder in practice.”
The first step is that the Jackets have to come away with a victory over the Bengals or else they fall short of what has been a crowded race in the middle of the district standings. But even if Denison does win, it needs one of two other outcomes — either a loss by third-place Frisco against second-place Lovejoy or a loss by Lake Dallas, which is tied with Denison in fourth place, to lose to Frisco Lebanon Trail.
The latter scenario is extremely unlikely so the Jackets are full-fledged Leopards fans so they can clinch a postseason berth. Denison does not have the head-to-head tie-breaker with Lake Dallas but does advance on points in a three-way tie-breaker with Frisco and the Falcons.
“If we don’t take care of business, it doesn’t matter,” Rogers said. “We’re going to see what we’re made of. When you get squeezed, what you’re made of comes out.”
Braswell needed a win last week against Lake Dallas to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention but came up short in a 21-16 defeat. That result also kept Denison from just needing a win against the Bengals to reach the postseason.
Also keeping Denison from just needing to win Friday was its 23-13 loss against Lovejoy last week. The Jackets couldn’t get anything going offensively for three quarters before a pair of Cade Gordy touchdown runs in the fourth made it possible for the Jackets to perhaps force overtime in the final minutes.
“I didn’t expect to be shut out going into the fourth quarter,” Rogers said. “We’ve put in some tweaks this week.”
The defense held a high-flying Leopard offense to its second-lowest point total of the season — only district champ Frisco Reedy was better — but the double-digit margin by half-time was too big. Denison grinded out 222 yards on 52 carries with Gordy finished with 87 yards and the two scores on 17 rushes.
“Offensive line takes a lot of that responsibility. We put it on us and we didn’t have a good week,” junior lineman Drew Williams said. “Braswell has nothing to lose and we have everything to lose. We don’t want to start off-season in Week 11.”
This is the third straight year Denison has faced Braswell and the first two district meetings were lopsided, including a 56-0 victory by the Jackets last season. But the Bengals, in their third varsity campaign, have improved over a 2-8 record in 2017 and sit in sixth in the district standings thanks to wins over Princeton, Frisco Memorial and Frisco Lebanon Trail.
Those may be their only victories but there haven’t been many bad margins in their losses. Outside of a 40-14 spread against Frisco Reedy, Braswell has kept everyone else within 22 points — a respectable showing from a team which allowed nearly 44 points per game last season.
“They’re a lot better. A lot of the starters are the same guys,” Rogers said. “Coach Moore and his staff have done a really good job. I thought before the year they could have been a surprise team.”
Last week against Lake Dallas, Braswell tied the game in the second quarter before the Falcons led, 14-7, at the break and 14-10 after three quarters before holding on.
Jeremiah Richardson led the Bengals with 27 carries for 119 yards and threw a TD pass to Greyson Thompson, who was 17-of-29 passing for just 92 yards. Elijah Norris had a team-high five catches for 50 yards.
On the season, Thompson has completed 126-of-215 passes for 1,406 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
Cam Smith is his top target with 34 catches for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Jordan Joyce has 22 receptions for 290 yards and three scores. Jared Shaabani is at 17 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns.