The Yellow Jackets get one of the first cracks at the defending district champion and while Denison had to deal with injury issues on offense and some lapses on defense during non-district play, there is a reason to feel the team is in a good spot going forward.
Depth has become an asset. Scoring has increased with each game. Confidence is starting to build.
“We have guys who have gotten experience. I’m proud of all of them. They do what they are supposed to do,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “It’s the way we practice. It’s the way we learn. There’s a science to what we do so they can be ready. If you believe you can do something, you have a lot better chance to do it.”
A key match-up early in the district slate could go a long way to determining postseason fates as Denison (2-1, 1-0) hosts Frisco Reedy (2-1, 1-0) in 7-5A (II) action at 7 p.m. on Friday at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium.
There can be no bigger test in district play than the Lions, who went undefeated in earning the top spot last season — including a 45-20 victory over Denison that was 24-7 at half-time before Reedy went up 45-7 by the end of the third.
Finding a way to flip the script is the task for the Jackets, who could take a big step towards a playoff berth with the win.
Denison opened district play with a 40-27 victory against Frisco Lebanon Trail. The Jackets had 525 yards without the services of sophomore running back Jadarian Price, who missed his second straight game with an ankle injury but is expected to return this week, and a change at quarterback.
Sophomore Caleb Heavner stepped in for senior Zaelin Wimbish, who will miss at least a month after a shoulder injury against Burleson Centennial, and completed 12-of-15 passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns.
“He handled the moment fine. He’s still learning,” Rogers said. “The play doesn’t care who makes it. It can be the backup quarterback or the third-string quarterback. Somebody’s got to make it.”
Keleon Vaughn had eight catches for 148 yards and all four TDs — tying the school record — while Asa Osbourn finished with 37 carries for 205 yards. Dameon Smallwood chipped in a touchdown run and Reece Stange kicked a pair of field goals.
It was a 40-13 margin at the end of the third before Lebanon Trail tacked on two scores in the final five minutes.
If there is a concern about Denison’s defense it comes in the passing game. The Jackets, who are allowing 31 points per game, have one interception and given up nine catches of at least 20 yards as well as a 65 percent completion rate.
“I think Lebanon Trail’s quarterback is pretty good. We had good coverage,” Rogers said. “People weren’t running wide open. He put the ball where it needed to be.”
Frisco Reedy opened district play with a 27-21 win over Lake Dallas. The Lions held a 20-0 half-time lead before Lake Dallas got within six in the middle of the third and again in the final minute.
Jalen Kitna was 10-of-22 passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score while Karston Farragut added 23 carries for 75 yards.
Kitna, the son of former NFL QB and current Cowboys quarterback coach Jon Kitna, transferred for his junior season and the Boston College commit earned the starting job over sophomore A.J. Padgett to replace three-year starter Josh Foskey, who was the district’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Kitna has completed 32-of-58 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Padgett has seen some time, completing 11-of-18 attempts for 157 yards.
Neither is much of a threat to run — they both have negative yardage on the season. Reedy’s ground attack is led by Farragut, who has 43 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown.
Other backfield options are Will Harbour and Jacob Smith, the only Lions with more than a single carry this season.
The main targets in the passing game are Zion Washington (10 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown), Karim Muhammad (nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown) and Josh Hernandez (five catches for 94 yards and two TDs)
Defensively, Reedy is led by Harbour, named the district’s Most Valuable Player as a junior, with 33 tackles while Michael Swope and Sam Barbour are next in line and Peyton Beck has a team-best five sacks. It is a mostly veteran unit — the top 10 tacklers are all upperclassmen.
But this is not the same team that rolled to a 13-1 record and region final loss against eventual state champion Aledo last season. Twelve Lions who earned district superlatives or first-team honors graduated and Reedy is only a couple of possessions from being 0-3.
The Lions beat Plano West 17-7 to open the season before a 48-19 loss against The Colony and then last week’s six-point victory over Lake Dallas.
But until someone knocks them off to gain an inside track to the district title, it is Reedy’s to hold.
“Everybody knows they had a great senior class. They won a lot of ball games,” Rogers said. “It’s a great scheme. They don’t make mistakes. I want us to keep getting better. That is the most important thing for us.”