Denison's last district game not the end

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison's Keleon Vaughn and the Yellow Jackets end District 7-5A (II) play at Princeton on Friday night.

With two key victories down the stretch, the Yellow Jackets made their regular-season finale mean a whole lot less than what it has been in the past.

The previous two years the last game on the schedule was going to decide Denison’s playoff fate. Both times when the game was over, a tie-breaker kept the Jackets home.

That won’t be the case this time.

“We haven’t been talking about the last two years, They haven’t talked about getting into the playoffs — it’s about doing something when they get there,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “They’re locked in, intense. They’re at practice ready to get better. That’s what you need to have this time of year.”

With a playoff spot locked up for the first time in three years, Denison (6-3, 5-2) travels to Princeton (2-4, 1-3) to close out the regular season in District 7-5A (II) action at 7 p.m. on Friday.

The Yellow Jackets enter the contest needing a victory or a Frisco Liberty loss against district champion Lovejoy to lock in the third seed for the playoffs and play at the second seed from District 8-5A (II), which is expected to be North Forney. The only way Denison would be the fourth seed is if it loses against Princeton and Liberty beats Lovejoy.

The Jackets clinched a winning record for the fourth straight season, the longest by the program since a run from 1987-98, and getting their seventh victory would be their most in three years and just the second time with that many since 2009.

“We’re going to play every game like it’s the only game,” Rogers said. “It’s the way we’ve treated this whole season.”

Princeton had already been eliminated from the playoff chase before the games of Thanksgiving weekend — mostly in part due to having cancelled three games — Memorial, Lake Dallas and Frisco — because of COVID-19.

There was a chance that had the Panthers been able to play those games, they could have remained in the mix. But Denison took care of its business the last two weeks to avoid being in a spot that has led to them being on the outside looking in the past two seasons.

The Jackets took down Lebanon Trail in what broke a tie for fourth place and then clinched last week by beating Liberty, 55-31, to pull into a tie for third place.

Caleb Heavner ran 13 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns and completed 3-of-4 passes for 24 yards and two TDs, Asa Osbourn ran for 146 yards on 15 carries, Jadarian Price chipped in 16 carries for 83 yards and a score, Javonte Briscoe returned an interception 91 yards for a touchdown and Dakota Buttrill and Trey Rhodes had the TD catches.

It was the second straight week, third time in a month and fourth time overall that Denison has scored at least 50 points and in all six wins the Jackets have produced at least 41 points.

“Our offense is really explosive and we have a really, really solid defense,” Rogers said. “When you have a lot of kids back, it’s never the same team and you see how teams come together as the season goes along.”

Princeton sat for three weeks, then had losses against Lebanon Trail (47-28) and Frisco Liberty (54-27) before having the district bye last Friday.

The Panthers’ lone 7-5A (II) win was 24-17 against Rock Hill to go with a 50-20 victory over South Garland to end non-district play.

Much of the offense has come through the air. Isaiah Sadler has completed 108-of-163 passes for 1,407 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions.

The junior signal-caller’s favorite target is Gavin Champ, who has 54 catches for 632 yards and 10 touchdowns. Devin Peoples is next at 33 receptions for 567 yards and five TDs.

No other Panther has more than 13 catches, 135 yards or multiple TD receptions.

Senior Dillon Moncier leads the team in rushing with 45 carries for 246 yards and two touchdowns but Atanas Omabti is right there with 49 carries for 224 yards and a TD. Princeton only has four rushing TDs as a team.

Defensively, the Panthers have allowed at least 47 points in all four defeats.

“They’ve had two weeks to get ready for us,” Rogers said. “They like to throw the ball. We expect to get everything they’ve got. They onside-kicked us twice last year. They've got nothing to lose.”

District 7-5A (II)

What: Denison at Princeton

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Radio: KMKT 93.1