Denison's rally comes up short
FORNEY — Seconds into the fourth quarter a victory looked so far out of reach. In the final minutes, a victory never looked closer.
But Denison was not able to complete the comeback attempt, despite turning a three-touchdown deficit into a seven-point margin with five minutes remaining. The Jackets were on the verge of tying the game with overtime looming and came up short. They had a chance to get the ball back for one final try but a penalty dashed their hopes.
An opportunity for the program's first playoff victory in more than a decade had slipped away as North Forney held on to beat the Jackets, 32-25, in a Class 5A Division II Region II bi-district contest at City Bank Stadium.
"It's about as frustrating a finish as you can have," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "I thought we were going to get into overtime. The kids had such resiliency and fight. They never gave up."
Jacob Acuna threw for 208 yards and a pair of TD passes and also ran for a score, Ty Collins totaled 69 yards and a touchdown on 25 rushes and Collyn Shipley had five catches for 85 yards and a TD for North Forney (9-1), which will face Aledo in the area round at 3:15 p.m. on Friday at Globe Life Park.
Asa Osbourn, who went over 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season, finished with 23 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns, Jadarian Price added 26 carries for 70 yards and a TD, Reece Stange kicked a 20-yard field goal and Keegan Pruitt had two catches for 72 yards for Denison (7-4), which was down 32-10 early in the fourth.
"It says a lot about them to get back in it," Rogers said. "This group was a lot of fun to coach and a lot of fun to be around. I'm going to miss them."
Collins scored on a two-yard run 30 seconds into the final quarter but Denison responded with a Price two-yard TD run helped by Pruitt's 66-yard reception to the North Forney seven.
The Jackets tried an onside kick and failed but they were able to force the Falcons to turn the ball over on downs at the Denison 38.
Keebler Wagoner hauled in a jump ball at the North Forney 11 for 45 yards on fourth-and-16 to keep the ensuing drive alive and Osbourn punched in the TD from two yards out with 5:01 left to make it 32-25.
Two snaps later, Landon Ellis recovered a fumble at the Falcons 13-yard line and Denison was on the verge of pulling even or even taking the lead on a two-point conversion.
"I wish I would have had that decision to make," Rogers said.
But North Forney came up with a stand after Price gained six yards on first down. He had three more carries which gained a total of three yards, including being stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-short at the four with 2:36 remaining.
Denison had all three of its timeouts and started using them. The Falcons ran the ball three times, gained five yards and were about to punt it back from their end zone when a personal foul penalty on Jakalen Fields gave North Forney a first down.
The Falcons were able to move the chains one final time and run out the clock.
Three touchdowns in the third quarter allowed North Forney to build the 22-point advantage. Kam Allen caught a 71-yard TD pass just three plays into the second half and it was 13-3 after the two-point conversion failed.
Denison's ensuing drive was a three-and-out and a snap over Stange's head in punt formation ended up being recovered in the end zone by Treilon Jones for a score to make it 19-3 less.
But Osbourn was able to gain the edge down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown run moments later to get Denison back within 19-10 at the 7:45 mark of the third.
The teams traded fourth-down failures before the Falcons made it 25-10 on Acuna's two-yard run with 1:14 to go in the frame.
North Forney carried a 7-3 lead into the break. Through their first four drives the Falcons managed just a total of 15 yards but then put together a possession that covered 74 yards in 10 plays.
Shipley capped the series with a 14-yard touchdown catch in the left side of the end zone with 5:15 remaining in the half.
North Forney did not have a first down before that drive and picked up four on the way to the end zone, including a pair of Acuna scrambles. Outside of that 14-yard TD pass, Acuna’s six other first-half completed gained just 26 yards.
"I thought our defense played great," Rogers said.
The Falcons ended the half with two more possessions but weren’t able to come close to adding to their advantage. Chandler McGee recovered a fumble at the Denison 33 and North Forney got to the Jacket 19 before the drive stalled and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs.
Despite having two possessions start in North Forney territory and another near midfield, Denison’s only scoring of the half came on its second series and after the Jackets had been pinned at their two-yard line.
Osbourn was able to break loose of a tackle in the backfield on third down and picked up 56 yards to flip the field and Denison eventually had a first down at the 11-yard line. The Jackets got three yards from the end zone before Stange kicked a 20-yard field goal with 3:58 left in the first quarter to give Denison a 3-0 lead.
The kick moved the senior to one field goal short of the school’s career record, which is 19 by Erick Harper from 1983-85.
Jones recovered a fumble on Denison’s drive following the field goal at the North Forney 40 but the Jackets got a fourth-down stop at the North Forney 46.
Denison tried to take the lead in the final minute of the half but turned the ball over on downs on fourth-and-two at the Falcons 44. The Jackets forced a three-and-out and Caleb Heavner’s Hail Mary as the half expired fell to the turf in the end zone.
Class 5A Division II Region II
North Forney 32