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No ties for these Jackets: Denison opens 7-5A (II) play with clear goal

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
The Denison defense, led by Javonte Briscoe (25) and Xzavier Washington (99) have a tough test against Lovejoy in the District 7-5A (II) opener Friday.

The Yellow Jackets don't need a reminder about how close they have been to the playoffs recently.

When they finished in fourth place in 2018, so did Lake Dallas. And it was the Falcons who owned the tie-breaker.

So last year it was about finding the one extra victory to make sure the Jackets wouldn’t be left out. Denison matched its 5-3 record, including avenging the loss to Lake Dallas. And as they finished fourth, the Jackets were joined by Frisco Reedy, who — of course — owned the tie-breaker.

The most recent attempt stung particularly worse because Denison had to win just one of its final two games to clinch.

“We didn’t come through at the end,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “If we win those last two, we’re district champs — that’s how different it could have been.”

One of the contests involved an overtime loss against Lovejoy, a team which has had Denison’s number since they started playing each other almost a decade ago.

Now the Jackets get the Leopards at the start of the district schedule as Denison (1-1) hosts Lovejoy (3-0, 1-0) for the Jackets’ opener in 7-5A (II) play at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday.

“Control what you can control,” Rogers said. “It’s the execution doing the little things right. It’s the intangibles that always seem to make the difference.”

These are two of the three teams expected to battle for the district title — Frisco being the other. But Denison is not in position to take anything for granted, especially since nobody should take things for granted in 2020, even though two of the teams that beat the Jackets in district play besides Lovejoy — Reedy and Denton Braswell — grew too big to stay in 7-5A (II).

Denison had the bye while the other eight district members started last week. Lovejoy, Frisco, Liberty and Lebanon Trail were the ones who opened with victories.

The Jackets are coming off their loss — a 24-3 setback against Texas High, which is No. 8 in this week’s Class 5A Division II statewide rankings.

“We got humbled a little bit. I know an open week isn’t as fun after a loss than after a win for all involved," Rogers said. "All things considered I thought the defense played well. The offense has to score points.”

Reece Stange’s field goal in the middle of the fourth quarter was the only scoring by Denison, which finished the contest with 190 yards and three turnovers. The defense allowed three touchdowns and a field goal to a unit that has scored 41 and 49 points in the other two victories.

The Jackets still have weapons to rely on. They have a pair of running backs in senior Asa Osbourn and junior Jadarian Price who have 1,000-yard seasons under their belts. They have a receiver in senior Keleon Vaughn who averaged a TD grab per game last year. They have a quarterback in Caleb Heavner who won five of his eight starts after he was thrown into the starting lineup because on an injury. And they have a defense which brought back eight starters.

Lovejoy kicked off district play with a 62-6 victory against Princeton. The Leopards were up 21-0 after the first quarter and 48-0 at half-time. R.W. Rucker completed 13-of-17 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns, Noah Naidoo finished with 13 carries for 105 yards and a TD, Matthew Mainord totaled 101 yards and a score on 19 carries and both of Reid Westervelt’s catches went for touchdowns and covered 50 yards.

Under the direction of new head coach Chris Ross, who came over from Red Oak, the Leopards opened with a 52-21 win over Plano John Paul II and then had a 48-13 victory against Sulphur Springs.

Rucker has thrown for 834 yards and 12 touchdowns with no interceptions while completing 41-of-58 passes (71 percent).

“We’ve got to get pressure on him. We can’t let him get comfortable back there,” Rogers said.

Naidoo is Lovejoy’s leading rusher with 61 carries for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

Rucker’s favorite target has been Westervelt, who has made 14 catches for 349 yards and six touchdowns.

“It’s just a good, very well-coached football team,” Rogers said. “Defense is different. They can run the ball and that quarterback’s good so we need to be prepared.”

District 7-5A (II)

What: Lovejoy at Denison

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Radio: KMKT 93.1 FM