The road along the comeback trail was full of twists and turns, from the early stages where the Yellow Jackets struggled to maintain a rhythm to having a chance at forcing overtime with an onside kick in the final minute.
Denison showed this year it was ready to go toe-to-toe with the defending district champ. The problem was that Frisco Reedy was more than ready to handle the counter punches, especially in the late moments.
So the rally fell just short when it looked like the Jackets might pull off the upset as Frisco Reedy held off Denison, 35-32, in 7-5A (II) action at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium.
“They made us work for everything,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “I’ve got to put us in a better position. I’ve got to do a better job.”
Jadarian Price returned after missing two-and-a-half games and had 16 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown, Caleb Heavner was 19-of-28 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, Keleon Vaughn caught seven passes for 72 yards and two TDs and Cayden Earnhart had a career day with eight catches for 90 yards for Denison (2-2, 1-1), which lost to the Lions, 45-20, last season.
Reedy (3-1, 2-0), which has won its district games by a combined nine points, was paced by a strong rushing attack. Karston Farragut totaled 176 yards on 19 carries, Jacob Smith added eight carries for 115 yards and a TD and Will Harbour scored twice on the ground.
Still, Denison had a final shot to either win the game or force overtime. Heavner found Vaughn for a nine-yard touchdown pass after he scrambled to his left and then threw back to the right with one minute on the clock.
Reece Stange got the double bounce he wanted on the onside kick, deflecting it off a pair of diving Lions, but the Jackets couldn’t jump on it fast enough and Reedy recovered to seal the win.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll be alright,” Rogers said. “The effort was there. If we keep playing with that same intensity we’ll win a lot of games.”
When Denison pulled within three late in the third quarter, the Lions responded with a 75-yard, five-play drive that ended with Jalen Kitna keeping for a two-yard run two plays into the fourth.
Denison then went three-and-out as Reedy was looking to put the game away. The Lions only got near midfield and a shanked punt of eight yards set the Jackets up at their 44-yard line with 7:35 remaining. That drive ended on a fourth-and 15 scramble by Heavner which picked up 12 yards to the 18.
After allowing a first down, Denison forced a punt and went on its final touchdown drive in just 1:21.
A pair of third-quarter fumble recoveries helped the Jackets get back in the game. Reedy had an opportunity to go up 23 on the opening drive of the third quarter but Landry Massenburg came up with the loose ball. Heavner capped the 46-yard drive with a seven-yard TD pass to Vaughn and after a failed conversion, Denison was down 21-11.
The Lions went back up when Smith capped the ensuing drive with a 10-yard TD run, but the Jackets put the deficit back to 10 when Lowellaus Bowman snuck through a hole on fourth-and-one for a 32-yard touchdown with 3:01 left in the quarter.
Kitna fumbled the first snap of Reedy’s next drive and William Wallis covered it at the Lion 22. Price scored on a 10-yard run up the middle and Denison was within three going to the fourth.
Reedy took a 21-5 advantage in half-time after two of Denison’s final three possessions of the quarter got into the red zone but came away with no points.
The last snap was with two seconds remaining before the break when a bad snap on a punt set the Jackets up at the seven-yard line but only enough time for one play. Heavner scrambled to his right and his throw to the side of the end zone was broken up.
In the middle of the second quarter, Denison was on the move after Reedy went up 14-5. Earnhart hauled in a 38-yard pass to the Lion 28 and a penalty gave the Jackets a first down. The drive stalled there and Stange’s 35-yard field goal was wide right.
Reedy quickly made Denison pay with a four-play, 80-yard drive capped by Karim Muhammad’s 33-yard TD catch from Kitna with 3:42 left in the half.
After a defensive-minded first quarter, the Lions took advantage of a fumble recovery at the Jacket 26-yard line. Reedy scored four snaps later on a nine-yard run by Harbour less than five minutes into the period.
Denison opened the game with a drive that made it to the nine-yard line but Stange had to kick a 27-yard field goal at the 8:38 mark of the first to give the Jackets the early lead.
Reedy responded on its initial possession with a two-yard touchdown run from Harbour.
The next Denison drive made it past midfield before the Jackets were forced to punt. Stange pinned Reedy at its five-yard line and that allowed Denison to cut into the lead.
The Lions were backed up to their one on third-and-14 when a holding call in the end zone awarded a safety to Denison and it was a 7-5 margin at the end of the first quarter.