Jackets beat Liberty to clinch playoff berth

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison linebacker Javonte Briscoe returns an interception 91 yards for a touchdown in the Jackets' win over Frisco Liberty in District 7-5A (II) action.

For the 17 Yellow Jacket seniors, it was an outcome they had been waiting for.

Only one of them had been to the playoffs before and this was going to be the last chance. Two straight seasons they were so close, losing out on tie-breakers, but by the middle of the third quarter against Frisco Liberty they knew there would be at least one more game beyond the season finale.

“It’s a really great group of seniors. It’s the way you want to send them off — Senior Day, playoffs clinched. Really proud of them,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “The whole week of practice was outstanding. You could tell they were ready. They took care of business."

Caleb Heavner ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and threw two TD passes and Javonte Briscoe returned an interception 91 yards for a score as the Yellow Jackets defeated Frisco Liberty, 55-21, in District 7-5A (II) play at Munson Stadium.

The Jackets threw the ball only four times, completing each pass, and rolled up 435 yards on 61 carries thanks in part to a strong north wind and a run-oriented gameplan.

“We knew we could move the ball on the ground, have success gaining chunks of yards,” Rogers said. “Just a great all-around game by everyone.”

Asa Osbourn finished with 146 yards on 15 carries, Jadarian Price added 16 carries for 83 yards and a TD, Keleon Vaughn and Jack Aleman had rushing touchdowns and Trey Rhodes and Dakota Buttrill caught the TD passes for Denison (6-3, 5-2), which ends the regular season at Princeton on Friday. A win or a Liberty loss to Lovejoy would lock the Jackets into the third seed for the playoffs.

It was the second straight game, third in four weeks and fourth time this season that Denison has scored at least 50 points.

Will Glatch completed 9-of-22 passes for 153 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and ran 14 times for 41 yards, Jonathan Bone had 64 yards and a TD on 14 carries and Jack Bryan totaled 99 yards from scrimmage on nine touches and a score for Frisco Liberty (6-3, 5-2), which clinched a playoff spot despite the loss. The Redhawks’ only chance to avoid the fourth seed is to win and have Denison lose against Princeton.

The Jackets needed just one play into the third quarter to extend their lead to 34-10. Price opened the half with a 56-yard kickoff return and Vaughn went left on a jet sweep and put a move on a defender for a 34-yard TD run.

Then Liberty was at the edge of the red zone when De’Teaurean Johnson recovered a fumble and the teams traded punts before the Jackets held a 41-10 advantage on the first catch of Dakota Buttrill’s career.

Normally a defensive lineman, he has played h-back the past couple weeks and was open in the left side of the end zone after Heavner faked a toss.

“He was not dropping that ball,” Rogers said.

Liberty took advantage of a muffed punt by Vaughn at the Denison 21 and Preston Urbine’s 23-yard TD grab made it 41-17 with 2:47 left in the third. A 15-yard touchdown run by Will Ashmore on the Redhawks’ ensuing possession had it down to a 17-point margin.

But Denison scored on its next two drives to put the game away. Freshman Jack Aleman, who ran eight times for 63 yards, picked up hist first career TD on a 23-yard run and following a blocked punt by Keebler Wagoner, Heavner scored three plays later for a 55-24 advantage with 7:54 remaining.

Bone notched an eight-yard TD run with 2:27 left to round out the scoring.

The Jackets took a 27-10 half-time lead whenHeavner connected with Rhodes on a jump ball in the left side of the end zone with seven seconds on the clock. Osbourn had a 33-yard run to the Liberty 33 to give Denison a chance at points and Heavner had a 22-yard scramble right before Rhodes’ grab.

It was a strong response to Liberty’s lone TD drive in the first half. Glatch connected with Bryan on the left side and he was able to get by a defender for a 23-yard score with 53 seconds left in the frame.

The Jackets had gone up 21-3 on Heavner’s 13-yard keeper that capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

Liberty’s only other points in the first half came on Evan Moros’ 36-yard field goal with 8:24 to go in the second quarter.

Price powered in a from a yard out to give Denison a 14-0 advantage with 2:25 remaining in the first quarter.

The Redhawks were in position to strike first when Sam Wenaas recovered a fumble at the Liberty 39. The drive kept going when Glatch hit Lawson Towne for 17 yards on fourth-and-three to the Denison 12.

But on the next snap, Landon Ellis blitzed from the left side and Glatch never saw him coming. He was hit as he threw and Johnson’s leap had the ball ricochet off his right elbow and right to Briscoe, who had nothing in front of him for the 91-yard interception return for a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

It was the fourth-longest defensive play in school history and this year’s unit has two of the top four — Vaughn’s 103-yard interception return against Lovejoy set the mark.

“That was huge right off the bat,” Rogers said. “Great energy. Our defense has been playing so well.”

District 7-5A (II)

Denison                    55

Frisco Liberty            31