They were linked arm-in-arm and made one last walk across the turf they called home for four years. It was a bittersweet moment for the senior Yellow Jackets, who would have liked the stroll taken under better circumstances.
Instead, it marked the finality of a season which ended on a two-game losing streak that cost Denison a playoff berth after Denton Braswell ended those postseason hopes with a 47-18 victory to close out the District 7-5A (II) schedule at Munson Stadium.
“I feel terrible for the seniors. This group really bought into what we asked them to do,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “So disappointed for them. A great group of kids.”
For the second straight season, Denison (6-4, 5-3) came up on the short end of a fourth-place tie-breaker when Frisco Reedy beat Princeton to pull even with the Jackets. The Lions’ 35-32 victory over Denison in the second week of district play sent them to the playoffs and kept Denison out.
Braswell (8-2, 7-1) earned a share of the 7-5A (II) title, the first in school history, and is the second seed for the playoffs. Frisco got the top seed via tie-breaker and was the only school Denison beat on the season. But the Jackets missed on both opportunities in the final weeks — losing in overtime to third-place Lovejoy — to clinch the final spot.
“The responsibility’s on me,” Rogers said. “The kids did what we asked them. I need to do a better job of getting them ready. In a nine-team district, the margin for error is not there.”
The Jacket defense provided all of the scoring through three quarters with a pair of safeties as Braswell opened a 35-4 advantage. Lowellaus Bowman found the end zone on a 38-yard run with 6:38 remaining and Asa Osbourn, who finished with 18 carries for 122 yards and went over 1,000 yards on the season and caught three passes for 93 yards, scored from nine yards out with 1:38 left.
Greyson Thompson completed 13-of-20 passes for 329 yards and and three touchdowns and also ran for a score, Cam Smith finished with seven catches for 215 yards and a TD and Ifesimi Yessuff had seven carries for 98 yards as Braswell totaled 533 yards.
Denison gained 390 yards but squandered its chances when the game was in the balance. There were two turnovers, four total fumbles and 15 penalties for 138 yards. The Jackets had six drives enter Bengals territory in the first three quarters but scored no points.
“It seemed like we were out of sorts,” Rogers said. “Give them credit. That’s a good football team over there.”
The Bengals scored to open the second half with Tristan McClary getting the first of hist two touchdowns on a two-yard keeper for a 28-2 margin.
Reece Stange pinned Braswell at its one-yard line and Jessi Mireles and Dameon Smallwood submarined the line as Thompson tried to sneak and gain some breathing room. He went down just inside the end zone for a safety. The Jackets had a chance to get back in the game on the ensuing possession but Caleb Heavner lost two yards on a fourth-and-short keeper from the five-yard line.
Instead of making it a 17-point game, Denison was down by 31 when Braswell went 93 yards in eight plays, the last a 44-yard TD pass from Thompson to Jacob Hernandez with 1:31 left in the third. McClary added another two-yard TD early in the fourth and the Bengals picked up a safety on Denison’s next series for a 40-point lead.
Braswell had minus-eight yards across four possessions in the second quarter but held a 21-2 advantage at half-time thanks to big passing plays in the opening 12 minutes.
The Jackets couldn’t take advantage of the second-quarter shutdown. On the second play of the frame, Cam Wheeler tackled Yessuff in the end zone for a safety after Braswell was pinned at its two on a 57-yard punt by Heavner.
Braswell didn’t pick up a first down on its next two possessions and Denison got inside the Bengals 30-yard line after both series but came away empty.
The first series that happened on came when the Jackets took over at midfield with 8:14 to go in the half. A penalty put them behind the chains and a fourth-and-three pass from the 25 was tipped at the line and intercepted by Evan Peterson.
Denison’s final time with the ball in the quarter started at its 27 and the drive took up nearly four minutes. A roughing the passer penalty on fourth-and-long gave the Jackets a first down at the Braswell 13. But a holding penalty backed them up and they eventually attempted a 39-yard field goal by Stange, which was wide right with just under a minute on the clock.
Denison had six possessions in the first quarter and only managed two first downs and 55 yards. On the game’s opening drive, which started at the Braswell 48 due to a Bengals personal foul on the kickoff, the Jackets turned it over on downs with an incompletion on fourth-and-five.
Braswell gave the ball right back when Landry Massenburg recovered a fumble forced by Keebler Wagoner after a short completion and Denison took over at its 43 but quickly punted.
Braswell needed just four plays to score. A 60-yard catch by Smith to the Denison 6 set up Thompson’s three-yard keeper two snaps later.
The Bengals cashed in a fumble recovery by Peterson on Denison’s ensuing drive when Thompson hit Hernandez for a 34-yard TD pass in the middle of the first.
Denison forced a turnover on downs at its 40-yard line and was on the move but another penalty wiped out a 36-yard pass to the six-yard line.
Even though Braswell was starting its next possession deep in its territory, and was backed up to facing third-and-18, Thompson dropped back and launched a deep ball down the middle for Smith, who caught it in stride short of midfield and did the rest for the 93-yard TD and a 21-0 advantage with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.