Jackets want more than just a playoff berth
It has been a strong season for the Yellow Jackets, one of their best in some time.
Denison is in the playoffs for the first time since 2017 with an offense producing numbers not seen since 2009. But for all their success over the final two months of the season, the Jackets know that in order to leave a legacy, it starts with what happens this week.
“Teams that win in the playoffs are remembered,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “Their goal has been not just to get the playoffs. Let’s do something when we get there.”
The opportunity to make a mark comes as Denison (7-3) plays at North Forney (8-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday in a Class 5A Division II Region II bi-district contest at City Bank Stadium.
The winner will face either Aledo or Dallas Hillcrest in the area round next week.
There is something to be said about getting to the playoffs after missing on a tie-breaker the past two seasons. Only Keleon Vaughn, a starter as a freshman, had been there before. And with so many key pieces back on both sides of the ball — quarterback Caleb Heavner, backs Asa Osbourn and Jadarian Price on offense; safeties Landon Ellis and Keebler Wagoner and linebacker Javonte Briscoe on defense — it was expected to get one of the fourth spots.
“The team has to take ownership of everything. They’ve embraced every loss. They’ve embraced every win,” Rogers said. “I’m excited. For the kids and the coaches it’s a big deal. They feel the buzz in the community. It’s what you look forward to.”
Now the focus is on extending their stay. The Jackets haven’t won a playoff game since reaching the state semis in 2009.
Denison is coming off an impressive finish to District 7-5A (II) play after the Jackets blasted Princeton, 55-0, for their first shutout in three years while scoring at least 50 points for the third straight game and fifth time this season.
Denison has scored at least 41 points in each win and the 2009 and 1997 teams are the only other DHS squads to score 50 points in a game at least five times in a season. The last time the Jackets scored at least 50 in three straight was the final three district games of the 2003 season.
“It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to go out and do it and these kids have been doing it,” Rogers said.
Osbourn had 16 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns, Price had 10 carries for 58 yards and scored twice, Heavner had TD passes to Trey Rhodes and Ty Kirkbride, Vaughn returned a punt 54 yards for a score and Ellis had an interception and a fumble recovery as the defense held the Panthers to 163 yards — 78 through through three quarters.
The Jackets have won six of their last seven games with the lone defeat coming against district runner-up and state-ranked Frisco. In fact, all three losses have come against teams ranked in the final top 10 and Frisco, Lovejoy and Texas High finished with a combined 27-1 record and the loss was Frisco's against Lovejoy.
North Forney played its 11th varsity season this fall and made the playoffs for the fourth time and first since 2017. The Falcons have been building to this, going 4-6 two years ago before improving to 7-3 and then losing just once this past year. The eight wins is the third-most in school history, behind only 10-win campaigns in 2011 and 2017, which are the only times the Falcons advanced past the first round.
District 8-5A (II) went to a zone format because of the COVID-19 pandemic and North Forney ended up losing only to Ennis, which is the top-ranked team in the statewide rankings, 38-14, two weeks ago.
North Forney closed out district play with a 43-14 win over Royse City last Friday. Ty Collins had 22 carries for 208 yards and two touchdowns while Jacob Acuna completed 8-of-15 passes for 137 yards and a TD and also ran eight times for 88 yards and two scores, Jermaine Oakley chipped in 68 yards and a score on 16 carries and Kameron Allen totaled five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
In their last six victories, the Falcons have scored at least 42 points and Ennis is the only team to hold them below 30 points.
Acuna has been the main signal-caller with 85 completions in 152 passes for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions but Landon Heath is 26-of-47 for 349 yards with eight TDs and an interception.
Collins leads the team with 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns on 169 carries while Oakley is next with 95 carries for 462 yards and six touchdowns. Acuna has 55 carries for 335 yards and five scores.
Allen is the top target with 665 yards and seven touchdowns on 36 receptions while Collyn Shipley has 29 catches for 365 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, North Forney has held six opponents to 25 points or fewer.
“All of our losses our in the top 10. I think we’re evenly matched,” Rogers said. “I think we match up with anybody. We’re playing a really good football team and I think they are as well.”
Class 5A Division II Region II
What: Denison at North Forney
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: KMKT 93.1 FM