Jackets pound Princeton to end 7-5A (II) play

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison's Jakalen Fields pressures Princeton quarterback Isaiah Sadler during the Yellow Jackets' shutout victory to end the regular season.

The only thing in doubt was if they the Yellow Jackets could clinch the shutout. And for a team that had already clinched its playoff berth and seeding even before stepping on the field, Denison looked like a team primed for its first postseason appearance in three years.

The Jackets put an exclamation point on an impressive closing stretch with a 55-0 victory over Princeton to finish off District 7-5A (II) play at Jackie Hendricks Stadium in Princeton.

“We understand what’s at stake and what we need to do,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “It was a really good overall win for the program.”

Denison built up a six-touchdown advantage by the break, held the Panthers to 163 yards by forcing three turnovers and earned its first shutout since a 56-0 win over Denton Braswell in 2017.

“Really proud of the way the prepared. They’re going out and doing what the coaches prepare them for,” Rogers said. “Secondary coming downhill in a hurry. They’re really students of the game. They’re all solid and having a lot of fun back there and that’s what you want to see this time of year.”

Asa Osbourn had 166 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, Caleb Heavner was 6-of-11 passing for 80 yards with touchdown passes to Trey Rhodes and Ty Kirkbride, Jadarian Price had 10 carries for 58 yards and two touchdowns, Keleon Vaughn returned a punt 54 yards for a score and Peyton Johnson finished with three carries for 60 yards and a TD for Denison (7-3, 6-2), which will open the playoffs as the third seed and play at North Forney at 7 p.m. on Friday in the bi-district round.

Atanas Ombati had 17 carries for 69 yards and Devin Peoples totaled eight carries for 48 yards and caught six passes for 28 yards for Princeton (2-5, 1-4), which had its best chance to avoid the shutout with its final drive of the night that stalled at the Jacket 12-yard line.

The Panthers gained half their yardage (76) in the fourth quarter. Javonte Briscoe had an interception in the third, his second straight with a pick.

By then Denison had all the points it needed, even before Kirkbride’s 14-yard TD catch in the middle of the third quarter —the 25th of Heavner's career to move to third on Denison's all-time list — and Johnson capped the scoring with a 29-yard keeper through the left side in the middle of the fourth.

It was the third straight game and fifth time this season the Jackets scored at least 50 points, which is the most since the 2009 squad had six and 1997 is the only other year it has happened five times.

Denison took a 41-0 lead into half-time on the strength of five touchdowns in the first 15 minutes.

It started almost immediately after the Jackets forced a three-and-out to open the game and Vaughn returned the punt 54 yards down the left sideline for the touchdown.

It was the eighth return touchdown of the senior’s career, extending his school record. It was also his fourth of the season, tying the school mark of Curtis Moore (1994), Reggie Hunt (1995), Corey Robertson (2004) and Tre’ Lyday (2015).

The next Princeton possession made it past midfield but Landon Ellis came up with an interception off a deflection on the right side. The Jackets needed just five plays, including a 35-yard catch by Keebler Wagoner, to make it 14-o on Price’s two-yard run with 4:13 left in the first quarter.

Ellis came up with a fumble recovery at midfield on the ensuing Panthers drive Princeton almost came up with a goal-line stand but Price scored on fourth-and-goal from the two, cutting up a toss to the right for a 21-0 advantage with 34 seconds left in the frame.

William Wallis’ sack had Princeton punting from deep in its end and Wagoner came up with another blocked punt on the season, his fifth, and Denison started at the Panthers three-yard line. Osbourn scored up the middle from there and it was 27-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.

“Great field position,” Rogers said. “We took advantage of some things, popped some plays on them.”

A 17-yard punt by Princeton on the next series set Denison up at the Panthers 36-yard line and four plays later Heavner connected with Rhodes in the middle of the end zone for a 34-0 advantage with 9:05 remaining in the half.

Osbourn, who became the 17th Yellow Jacket with 2,000 career rushing yards, ended the scoring with just seconds left when the Jackets took over at the Princeton 45 with 1:09 left on the clock. It took six plays, including a 10-yard Heavner scramble and a 25-yard run from Osbourn before he had a four-yard TD up the middle and the 41-0 margin.

It could have been worse — Osbourn had a 51-yard touchdown run wiped out when Artrai Miles forced a fumble right before Osbourn reached the end zone in the middle of the second.

Osbourn had 132 yards on nine carries at the break while Price had all his carries before the break.

Princeton managed just 57 yards across its first nine possessions. The Panthers ran 17 times for 19 yards and Sadler completed 8-of-18 throws for 38 yards.

Princeton’s best drive looked like it was coming together after going down 34-0 when Peoples took a screen pass 35 yards to the Denison 30 but it was called back due to holding.

District 7-5A (II)

Denison                55

Princeton                0