The Yellow Jackets have the home-field advantage and at this point of the year they will take every advantage they can get.
Denison is trying to avoid the same fate from last season, except there is a slight difference going into the final game of the year.
This time, Denison doesn’t need any help to advance to the playoffs. They just have to come away with a victory and a spot is theirs for the third time in four seasons.
“We’re in control in that respect. You keep winning and you keep playing. The kids know what’s at stake,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “We’ve had a really good week of practice and they have every intention of practicing next week.”
They way the Jackets handle that pressure from the opening kick might be the difference as Denison (6-3, 5-2) hosts Denton Braswell (7-2, 6-1) in the District 7-5A (II) finale at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Denison doesn’t have to beat Braswell to make the playoffs. The Jackets can also clinch if Frisco Reedy loses against Princeton. If Denison loses and Reedy wins, the Lions would get the final slot via the head-to-head tie-breaker on the strength of a 35-32 victory.
When the Jackets missed out last season, it was on a head-to-head tie-breaker to Lake Dallas. But all that can be rendered pointless if they come away with a win.
The Jackets had a chance to punch their ticket last week but let a two-touchdown lead in the middle of the third quarter slip away in a 31-24 overtime loss against Lovejoy. It also kept Denison from staying in the running not only for the district title but the top overall seed for the playoffs.
“It’s still crazy where all the teams can be just about any spot — outside of us being first and Reedy would be fourth no matter what,” Rogers said. “The other three (Frisco, Lovejoy, Braswell) can all be first, second or third.”
Caleb Heavner completed 16-of-21 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns while also running 16 times for 49 yards. Keleon Vaughn, who missed the fourth quarter and overtime with a shoulder injury but is expected to play on Friday, had four catches for 81 yards and a TD, Cayden Earnhart added two catches for 46 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Jadarian Price ran 32 times for 142 yards.
Denison had a 24-10 advantage before Lovejoy pulled within a score on a long TD pass late in the third. The Leopards tied the game on a fourth-and-goal TD run from the three with 5:28 remaining, then converted on the opening possession of overtime. Denison turned the ball over on downs without gaining a first down on its OT drive.
“If we had gotten one score up 14, I think that would have been enough,” Rogers said. “Lovejoy’s such a good team. They don’t go away.”
Braswell enters the game in a three-way tie for first place, alongside Lovejoy and Frisco — who play each other. A Braswell win and a Lovejoy win would give the Bengals the top seed for the playoffs. A Braswell win coupled with a Frisco win would give the Bengals a share of the 7-5A (II) crown but the second seed.
This is by far the best season in the short history of the program. The Bengals have increased their win total each of the past three seasons since an inaugural 0-10 mark in 2016.
The seven victories this season have surpassed the last two years combined, when Braswell was 5-15. It is also a good jumping off point for a program that is moving up in the next realignment, skipping 5A Division I and going straight to Class 6A with an enrollment over 2,400 students — a number more than 1,000 ahead of Denison.
Braswell is on a six-game winning streak. The Bengals lost to Burleson, 42-30, to end non-district play and then opened the 7-5A (II) schedule with a 33-28 defeat against Frisco.
Since then they have scored at least 37 points in every game, including putting up at least 49 points three times. Braswell edged Lovejoy, 59-51, in triple overtime, to kick off the winning streak and avoided an upset bid last week with a 39-31 victory over Lake Dallas.
The Falcons held a 10-7 half-time lead over the Bengals, who then scored on all five second-half possessions. Jacob Hernandez ran for a touchdown and returned a punt 53 yards for a score, Ifesimi Yessuff had eight carries for 120 yards and a TD and Greyson Thompson threw a pair of touchdown passes.
Lake Dallas’ early success came through controlling the tempo and the Falcons ran the ball 50 times to try and limit Braswell’s offensive opportunities.
For the season, Thompson has completed 157-of-254 passes for 2,358 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions to go with seven rushing touchdowns.
Yessuff leads the Bengals with 80 carries for 787 yards and seven touchdowns while Jamerion Sanford has 106 carries for 486 yards and three TDs and Cameron Lara has 96 carries for 452 yards and scored four times.
Cam Smith is Thompson’s top target with 57 receptions for 844 yards and 11 touchdowns. J’Kalon Carter is next with 38 catches for 554 yards and three TDs and Hernandez has 23 grabs for 411 yards and five touchdowns.
“Their JV has been undefeated for two years. You knew their numbers were coming up,” Rogers said. “We can’t let their quarterback get comfortable. We’re going to have to create some turnovers.”