With head coach Kevin Atkinson and his staff in the process of changing the culture at Denton, the Broncos continue to improve, especially on defense.
Last week’s 28-19 road win against Wichita Falls moved Denton to 3-3 on the season and 1-2 in District 5-4A.
The Broncos weren’t expected to be in the playoff race, but with four games remaining and a showdown at home against Fort Worth Brewer (4-2, 1-2) on tonight’s docket, Denton can at least tie for the fourth playoff spot with a win.
“It’s an important week,” Atkinson said. “If we want to make a run for the playoffs, this isn’t a make-or-break game, but it’s really important. If we can win this one, it will put us in a much better place. We won’t have to scratch and claw, but we are still going to have to fight. It would really be nice to be 2-2 in district.”
Senior linebacker Charles Boosa’s forced fumble and 55-yard return for a touchdown against Wichita Falls was the icing on the cake in Denton’s most sound defensive performance to date.
Broncos defensive coordinator Matt Lawrence moved linebacker Michael Husbands and cornerback Leon Atkinson to safety. Lawrence said the change had more to do with the two players’ tackling ability than team depth.
“We are just trying to find more pieces to the puzzle,” Lawrence said. “Leon had another big pick last week and one of the kids he started over also had a pick. It creates some friendly competition. At safety, at a smaller school, you’ll see a lot of quarterbacks. You want a smart kid back there that’s got to know that if he takes a chance that it’s got to work.”
The Broncos’ defense has accounted for 15 turnovers in six games, and the coaching staff thinks opponents may be underestimating Leon Atkinson.
“They think Leon isn’t as athletic, but he has made them pay,” Lawrence said. “We put him back there because he is so cerebral. He’s not going to panic. Each kid needs an opportunity.”
Lawrence also is very complimentary of senior Chris McGee, saying he is the team’s most reliable cornerback.
“I actually have the best cornerback I’ve probably ever had in my life,” Lawrence said. “Chris is our lock-down corner if he’s healthy. He’s the best kid we have to shut somebody down.”
With Boosa grabbing headlines with his play against Wichita Falls, depth at linebacker has been developing as the backbone of the Denton defense.
“I think we have guys that can get it done, and the biggest one that everybody notices right now is Ryan Duggan,” Lawrence said. “He’s very coachable. He’s passionate about what he does and he’s a kid who could even be more influential than he is. He’s a quiet leader and I’m real pleased where he’s at and where he’s going. I wish I could have him back for another year.”
The Denton defense has been exposed in the run game, and Lawrence said his squad is built to bend but not break.
Looking to avoid big plays in the passing game, Lawrence is still fighting to shore up the run defense.
“Even though we are bending a little bit on run plays, we are still finding a way to get the ball back,” Lawrence said. “We, like any other coaches, would like to take some of the run game away more consistently.”
The Broncos now will face their stiffest rushing opponent yet. Brewer’s C.J. Washington led the district last year with 1,023 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns to go with 492 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
“They’ve got a really dynamic back in C.J. Washington,” Atkinson said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ve had some injuries we are fighting through. We are going to get challenged this week because they are really good on offense. The strength of their team is Washington.”
With wide receiver Key’andre Hearvey out for the foreseeable future with a broken collarbone he suffered in practice, Atkinson said he is looking for his offense to adapt and be able to exploit a weak Brewer defense.
“This is probably the softest defense we’ve seen,” Atkinson said. “I’m hoping we can control the ball and really eat the clock to keep their offense off the field. We need some good things to happen to build some confidence. Our next step is to protect the ball and be a team that executes.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .