In short stretches the Yellow Jackets showed improvement when their opponent had the ball in the season-opener. Denison is hoping to extend those periods of success and combine with an improved offense for the first victory of the season.
“I thought our tackling was a lot better at times,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “That said, our lack of tackling was 14 points on the board, maybe 21.”
Making changes more subtle than significant might be enough as Denison (0-1) travels to Paris (0-1) for a non-district game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.
“There were some breakdowns on defense we can’t have,” Rogers said. “At times it was very good — there were several good things to take away. Of course there were things not so good.”
Last season against the Wildcats, Denison had its best defensive effort despite the loss. The Jackets held Paris scoreless in the second half and allowed just 290 yards in the 18-6 defeat. Quarterback Keandre Robinson, who had a hand in all three touchdowns, graduated although Kenny Mason is back after rushing for 74 yards on 16 carries.
“I try not to compare things,” Rogers said. “There were some breakdowns on defense we can’t have.”
The Jackets opened the season with a 45-27 loss against Frisco Centennial. Down 17-0 after the first quarter, Denison was able to pull within 10 points but never got any closer despite outgaining the Titans.
Denard Whitfield ran for 162 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries while also making a 38-yard TD catch, Devon Blanton added a touchdown run and Jaleel Dade caught a 30-yard TD from Chance Rogers, who was 17-of-28 for 206 yards and an interception in his first start at quarterback.
“We ran a bunch of offensive plays,” Rogers said. “There were times we kinda just stalled out.”
It was a vast improvement for the unit, which returned 10 starters, from last year’s opener when Denison gained 179 yards and the lone touchdown came in the final two minutes.
“A lot better feeling,” Dade said. “It shows we got a lot better than what we were last year and it helps us going forward into Paris.”
Centennial finished with just over 400 yards, scoring at least two touchdowns in every quarter except a scoreless third, getting a pair of touchdowns out of Kamari Burnett, Tapiwa Mudewhe and D.J. Jackson. Half of the touchdowns came on third-and-long plays.
“Third down is something we’ve got to fix,” Rogers said. “We didn’t execute and stop them. We’ve got to stop worrying about making mistakes.”
It didn’t help that lineman Sergio Orona was injured early in the game and linebacker Derick Bennett was out after getting hurt in the scrimmage against Rider. “It didn’t help to be without both of them,” Rogers said. “We weren’t sure Derick was going to play right up until the start. It’s still that way.”
Both will be game-time decisions. Junior Damian Boyd would once again replace Orona up front while the linebacking unit gains an additional option in Jacob Hunt, who has met UIL practice requirements to suit up this week.
Paris opened the season with a 40-17 loss against Mount Pleasant in a game much closer than the final score. The Wildcats trailed, 21-17, going to the fourth quarter and Mount Pleasant had two touchdowns in the final 56 seconds.
Paris had five turnovers, including an interception Keanan Brown returned 35 yards for a score, and managed just eight first downs and 199 yards. Sophomore Quez Allen, who took over at quarterback after the Denison-Paris meeting last season, had 46 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and completed 11-of-27 passes for 117 yards with two interceptions.
Mount Pleasant relied on the running game to pick up the victory. Tarrence Taylor had 258 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries while Cullen Grubbs connected twice with Baylor commit K.D. Cannon — who Denison fans might remember from his sophomore exploits in district play two years ago — for two touchdowns.
While the Wildcats return several key components to last year’s 8-4 team that won the District 13-3A title and earned the program’s first playoff victory since 1988, including three linebackers, four offensive lineman and all-round threat Mason, the differences include the change at quarterback and head coach.
Steven Hoenberger arrived from Irving Nimitz and has introduced some things that hurt in scouting last year’s game film.
“We really spend time doing the things we need to do right,” Rogers said. “As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be all right.”