There is a balance to the Denison offense that has not been seen in nearly a decade.
For the most part under head coach Chad Rogers, the Yellow Jackets have been mostly a run-first, run-second, run-third kind of outfit. Five of the six games in school history with at least 72 rushing attempts have come under his watch.
A couple of seasons saw things switch 180 degrees, where the ball was in the air a lot more than it stayed on the ground. But very rarely has there been as close to an even split as the Jackets have been shown recently.
Taking advantage of the weapons at the skill positions is going to have opponents take notice — if they haven’t already — because once the focus is put on one area, Denison is ready to hurt you with the other.
“I think options is a great word,” Rogers said. “Our opponents are still going to have to respect the run. Honestly the better your run game is, your play-action is better and can make the passing game better. Our receivers are getting better every time we snap the ball.”
Maintaining that balance won’t be easy, even though it might appear that way, as Denison (2-2, 1-1) travels to Princeton (2-1, 1-0) in 7-5A (II) action at Jackie Hendricks Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday.
In the past three games — a loss to Burleson Centennial, a win over Lebanon Trail and a loss to Frisco Reedy — Denison is averaging 236 yards rushing and 203 yards passing. There have been three different leading rushers. There have been three different leading receivers.
It took place with and without running back Jadarian Price. It took place despite a change at quarterback when Zaelin Wimbish was injured and Caleb Heavner has started the past two contests.
The easiest place to look might be up front with a senior offensive line — tackles Christian Smallwood and Mason Doyle, guards Drew Williams and Jose Conejo and center Wesley Brooks.
“Having four of them back that played a lot helps and the one who hasn’t, Mason Doyle, no one works harder than him,” Rogers said. “Wesley at center really makes them go. If you group them all together, they’re rock solid and when you have that you can do a lot of things.”
Denison is looking to bounce back from a 35-32 loss against defending district champ Reedy. The Yellow Jackets made a valiant comeback attempt after they were down 21-5 at half-time and cut the deficit to three twice, including on Keleon Vaughn’s nine-yard TD grab with a minute remaining.
Denison couldn’t recover the onside kick and is sitting at the same point it was last year, alternating wins and losses through the first month.
Vaughn finished with seven catches for 72 yards and three touchdowns, Cayden Earnhart led the way with eight receptions for 90 yards, Heavner completed 19-of-28 passes for 196 yards and three TDs and Price returned after missing two and a half games with a foot injury to lead the team with 16 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Princeton started district play last week after opening the 7-5A (II) schedule with the bye. The Panthers went 1-1 in their non-district contests — a 41-0 win over South Garland followed by a 77-48 loss against Red Oak.
Last week Princeton came away with a 31-21 victory over Lake Dallas to avenge a loss and put Princeton in a better position this fall to earn a playoff spot after the Panthers went 3-7 overall and 2-6 in district in their first year as a 5A program.
“Coach Surratt does a really good job. They’re a lot better,” Rogers said. “They’re throwing the ball all over the place. They’ve got good receivers.”
Isaiah Sadler completed 20-of-36 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a score, while Jay Hill ran 29 times for 145 yards and two TDs and Daniel Torres finished with eight catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Lake Dallas managed just 215 yards in its last game before playing at Denison next week as the Falcons have the bye on Friday.
Sadler, a sophomore, stepped into the starting role for senior Brendon Strickland. Strickland did not play against Lake Dallas after going 38-of-62 for 585 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions in the first two games.
Hill is Princeton’s leading rusher with 64 carries for 349 yards and seven touchdowns. The senior is the main threat on the ground — only one other Panther has double-digit carries and no one has 50 yards on the season.
Torres tops the team in receiving yardage (281) and is tied with Hill, who is averaging 23 yards per catch, at two receiving TDs.
Another senior, Kendall Johnson, has a team-best 20 catches for 253 yards and a score while classmate Noah Leonard is at nine catches for 101 yards.
The defense is led by Johnson, who was a first-team all-district selection in the secondary. Of note to the Jackets, who are averaging 267.5 rushing yards per game, is the fact that in Princeton’s lone loss, the Panthers allowed 486 yards on the ground — as part of 727 yards overall — on 35 carries for a whopping 13.9 per attempt.