Denison's ball security has been near perfect in wins

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison quarterback Caleb Heavner has not thrown an interception in any of the Yellow Jackets four wins and the offense as just one turnover across its victories.

It may be a very simple correlation but as the Yellow Jackets enter the second half of their schedule, one thing that has been missing from their victories might go a little unnoticed, if only because when turnovers happen their effect on the game and the outcome makes everyone pay attention.

But Denison has been almost flawless in that department. During the four wins, Caleb Heavner has yet to throw an interception in almost 70 passes and running backs Jadarian Price and Jack Aleman have not lost a fumble in more than 90 combined carries.

The lone turnover in a victory was during the first half of the season-opener as Denison claimed the Battle of the Ax.

Keeping it clean isn’t just some cliché, it has become a way of life as the Jackets (4-1, 2-1) host Lake Dallas (3-3, 1-3) in District 7-5A (II) action at Munson Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday.

“I think we’re not turning the ball over because we’re making that effort,” Denison head coach Brent Whitson said. “We have drills for all the skill people going through a circuit to work on ball security. We’d be really hard-pressed to complain about our kids’ ball security.

“Usually interceptions are on the quarterback making a bad decision. It’s a mental mistake, not a physical one,” Whitson said. “Ball security and the kicking game – if you take care of those two things it gives you a much bigger margin of error both on offense and defense.”

If there is one area Whitson feels things could be going better is with penalties. The Jackets had nine last week and 11 in their only loss against Lovejoy in the district opener. Denison was flagged a season-high 16 times in the opener.

“I like to be under 50 (yards). We’re averaging 82 and that’s a little too high,” Whitson said. “We don’t want the stupid ones.”

The Yellow Jackets had a second straight game which was in close in the fourth quarter. Unlike the 27-20 win against Prosper Rock Hill where Denison scored with just over two minutes left to pull out the win, the 43-24 victory over Frisco Memorial had more breathing room at the end.

But it was only a 21-17 lead for the Jackets before they scored three times in the final 11 minutes. There were big plays in the first half – Price had a 105-yard kickoff return TD that was the longest play in school history, Josh Kurtenbach’s first catch of the season was a 63-yard touchdown and William Wallis recovered a fumble in the end zone for a score – and then a scoreless third quarter before Denison pulled away.

Price finished with 17 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown, Caleb Heavner was 16-of-22 passing for 170 yards with TD passes to Kurtenbach and Trey Rhodes while Aleman also scored on the ground.

Memorial was a bit out of sorts when it turned to freshman Braeden Mussett at quarterback when starter Ethan Lollar left the game with an ankle injury on the Warriors’ sixth snap and did not return. The normally pass-heavy offense went almost exclusively to running the ball the rest of the first half.

“Let’s make him beat us. They weren’t going to make a living throwing it,” Whitson said. “The second-half adjustments by the kids and coaches were really good. Second-half our horses showed up. We tempoed them. Our offense was in better shape than their defense.”

Lake Dallas continues the recent trend of Jacket opponents with an already improved record over last season. The Falcons are the third straight to come into the match-up against Denison in that category – they ended last year 1-8 and lost all seven district contests. This year they won their two non-district games, 34-28 over Denton and 41-31 against Frisco Centennial, and have a 56-32 win over Frisco Lebanon Trail in 7-5A (II) play.

But last week Lake Dallas had its second straight loss, dropping a defensive battle, 14-12, against Princeton.

Drew McKinney ran 21 times for 132 yards, Cade Bortnem was 12-of-23 passing for 93 yards and a touchdown with an interception, Javaan Evans finished with four catches for 35 yards and a score and Preston Gregg kicked a pair of field goals.

The other two defeats are blowouts – 70-27 to Frisco and 41-24 against Frisco Liberty.

In the loss to Liberty, starting quarterback Brendan Sorsby was knocked out the game with an injury to his throwing hand. Micaiah Brooks took the rest of the snaps and then Bortnem got the nod against Princeton. There is a chance Sorsby returns on defense against Denison but Bortnem is expected to be behind center.

Sorsby is 51-of-93 passing for 882 yards with 10 touchdowns and an interception and has 61 carries for 476 yards and 10 TDs.

McKinney has paced the Falcons on the ground with 95 carries for 592 yards and four touchdowns.

In the air they are more diverse. Between Evans, Niki Gray, Keonde Henry and Evan Weinberg, all have between 12 and 26 catches, 201 and 302 yards and all have hauled in multiple touchdowns.

“They threw it a lot last week. They were a lot more balanced when they had Sorsby because of the quarterback run,” Whitson said. “They have not changed anything. They’re going to throw the ball but they have a good back that they will use and we’ll have to tackle well.”

District 7-5A (II)

What: Lake Dallas at Denison

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Radio: KMKT 93.1 FM