What started with promise despite the Yellow Jackets playing without a critical starter ended with Denison worrying about another key piece to the offense.
The loss to Burleson Centennial was secondary after the fourth play of the fourth quarter. That’s when Jacket quarterback Zaelin Wimbish gained 10 yards on first down but didn’t get up immediately on the far sideline. He spent the final minutes of Denison’s 53-34 loss against the Spartans at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium with an ice pack on his left shoulder.
“It’s either an AC sprain or a stinger. One you play next week; the other you’re out,” Jacket head coach Chad Rogers said.
Sophomore running back Jadarian Price, who missed almost all of the second half of the season-opening win against Sherman due to an ankle injury, went through warm-ups but did not play in a game that was a two-point margin at half-time before Centennial used three big plays early in the third to break it open.
“If he was gonna play, he was gonna start,” Rogers said. “He wasn’t going to go in cold. I didn’t like the way he looked during warm-ups. He’ll be fine.”
Wimbish had 16 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown and completed 9-of-14 passes for 130 yards and two TDs for Denison (1-1), which opens District 7-5A (II) play against Frisco Lebanon Trail at Toyota Stadium on Friday night.
Jaylon Jackson had 140 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also added a 38-yard TD grab for Centennial (2-0), which scored 23 straight points across the second and third quarters to turn a one-point deficit into a 22-point advantage.
The bulk of the damage was done in the first 2:30 of the second half. Jackson had a 63-yard TD run on the second play of the third quarter and the first Denison play from scrimmage was a scoop-and-score fumble return of 12 yards by Chris Hilliard.
The Jackets then went three-and-out and the ensuing punt was returned 73 yards to the house by Christian Mosley. It proved to be enough cushion despite the Jackets’ valiant comeback attempt.
Denison regrouped with a 12-play drive that was capped with Wimbish hitting Keebler Wagoner down the right side for a 25-yard TD pass in the middle of the frame.
Centennial recovered the onside kick but the first snap was a fumble recovery by Landry Massenburg — both teams lost three fumbles and finished in double-digit penalties — to give the Jackets the ball at the Spartans 28. Keleon Vaughn made a touchdown catch between two defenders in the end zone on the first play and Denison was only down 36-28.
But Hank Meyer found Jackson all alone for a touchdown pass on the next series and Josh Garcia kicked a 37-yard field goal the next time Centennial had the ball to push it back to a three-score margin early in the fourth.
Denison did manage a touchdown on the drive when Wimbish was hurt. Sophomore Caleb Heavner came off the bench and covered 72 yards in six plays, the last a 38-yard TD to classmate Keegan Pruitt down the right sideline with 9:43 remaining. Heavner finished 6-of-10 passing for 79 yards.
The Spartans answered with a Meyer two-yard touchdown run and the Jackets ended up turning the ball over on downs at the Centennial 15 with 5:35 left on their last best chance to get back in it.
“There’s so much we did right on both sides of the ball and so much we did wrong on both sides of the ball,” Rogers said. “You can learn a lot from a loss. It was just sloppy. Both teams. They were able to do some things a little bit better than us at crucial times.”
Centennial scored on the final play of the first half — a 39-yard field goal — to take a 16-14 advantage into the locker room.
The drive started after Denison got to the edge of the red zone before turning it over on downs.
Denison had gained possession after a missed 33-yard field goal attempt. Jackson ripped off a 57-yard run to the Jacket 17 but a penalty followed and sabotaged the series.
Wimbish scored on the first play following a turnover when he scrambled and dodged a couple of Spartans on a 10-yard run to the right side with 8:47 left in the half. It gave Denison a 14-13 advantage.
Jalyn Childs came up with the fumble recovery to give momentum back to the Jackets after they had put together a promising drive from the start of the second quarter that ended on downs at the Centennial 35.
Wimbish had a 37-yard run on the first play and two first downs later put Denison at the 21. A loss of four on first down and two penalties sandwiched around an incompletion short-circuited things.
Denison got on the board when Asa Osbourn took it up the middle for four yards with 1:50 left in the first. The touchdown was set up by Pruitt’s 27-yard catch.
The Jackets nearly recovered the ensuing onside kick as Reece Stange spun it off an upman and towards the left sideline but Jalik Lewis’ diving attempt came up short and Kendall Earheart fell on it for the Spartans.
Centennial opened up a 13-0 lead on consecutive possessions.
The teams traded fumble recoveries to open the game before Denison went three-and-out. The Spartans used a 59-yard pass from Meyer to Luke Grimes to get to the Jacket three after Wagoner ran him down. The Jackets almost kept Centennial out of the end zone but Meyer scored on fourth down from the one in the middle of the first quarter.
Conner Cunningham came up with a fumble recovery at the Denison 32-yard line and the first play was a touchdown catch by Mosley near the right pylon.
Big plays aided the Spartans, who had 148 yards on three snaps and 59 on the other 25 through the first two quarters.