The game’s impact on District 5-4A’s playoff race will be hard to quantify after Denton and Lake Dallas’ district-opening showdown.
Both head coaches know the importance of the first district game, but Lake Dallas head coach Michael Young may have said it best after the Falcons’ 38-20 defeat of Carrollton Newman Smith two weeks ago.
“If we’re 3-0 and [the Broncos] are 0-3 and they beat us in two weeks [to start district play], then they are in first place and we’re tied for last,” Young said of the Falcons’ nondistrict success.
The gravity of getting out to a strong district start is apparent, and it was the Falcons who won last season’s district opener 21-12 at home against Denton.
The district race was tight last season. Lake Dallas defeated Azle in the final game of the regular season, and those teams claimed the final two playoff spots on a points-differential tiebreaker over Trophy Club Nelson. Guyer and Wichita Falls Rider took the top two berths.
The Hornets lost to the Falcons 21-13. Had they lost by more than 12 points, it would have been Nelson in the playoffs.
The Broncos, who finished 1-6 in the district last season, boast a 2-1 record — the same nondistrict mark as last year — but this season has a different feel than Atkinson’s first season as Denton coach. Denton is two weeks removed from a 63-0 drubbing of Fort Worth Western Hills.
After its game against Lake Dallas, Denton will have to deal with district favorite Guyer next week. But Denton coach Kevin Atkinson said his team isn’t overly stressed about the magnitude of today’s home tilt.
“They seem like this is just another normal week,” Atkinson said. “I just want to make sure that we are focused like we need to be.”
Atkinson said he is worried about his team falling out of productive habits it has established this season, but the play of Lake Dallas wide receiver Josh Jackson poses a concern for every Bronco.
“All of our kids know where he is — offense and defense,” Atkinson said. “He’s one of their marquee players. He’s definitely going to be one of those guys when he steps on the field, everyone is going to say, ‘There he is.’ It’s not like people don’t know about him.”
In the Falcons’ first three games, Jackson has dominated opposing defenses, totaling eight touchdowns and 384 yards on 20 catches.
With Jackson likely to get the defensive microscope put on him by Denton, Young said he’s confident in his offense’s ability to adapt.
“If they try to take him away, we’ve got some other guys, and that’s going to be important,” Young said. “We’ve got to spread it around some.”
Even if the Broncos lock down on Jackson, Young said he can produce with defenders on his back.
“His length and his jumping ability — even when he has people covering him — he has a unique ability to catch,” Young said.
The sophomore quarterback throwing to Jackson also has drawn the gaze of the quarterback-savvy Atkinson, as Dagan Haehn has dissected defenses with pinpoint accuracy. Haehn’s arm is responsible for 885 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions on 60-of-93 passing.
“I’ve been around a lot of really good quarterbacks, and as a sophomore he’s as good as I’ve seen,” Atkinson said. “It’s going to be very challenging for our defense. He makes a lot of plays with his feet. He’s smart. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s got good pocket presence. He’s pretty fearless when he runs, so he’s a dual threat, and he throws a very catchable ball.”
With both teams’ efficient offenses on the rise and on the prowl, Atkinson said he hopes it’s his offense, not his defense, that outshines the Falcons.
“Sometimes your best defense is your offense,” Atkinson said. “We are going to try to string together some 10-, 12-play drives and see if we can keep theirs off the field. We need to limit their opportunity for drives. That’s the smartest thing that we can do, because their offense is pretty dang good. We have to control the clock a little bit and limit their possessions.”
With all the attention the Falcons’ passing game has accrued, Young said the X-factor for today’s matchup is which team can run the ball more effectively.
“It’s going to be hard to throw it every down,” Young said. “When you get one-dimensional, it gets easy to defend. The team that can run is probably going to win the game. We’ve got a sophomore running back [Courtenay Holder] and he’s averaging just under 5 yards a carry. We’re looking to get him more involved in district, and we need to be more two-dimensional.”
While also passing for 308 yards, the Falcons ran for 172 yards on 37 carries against Newman Smith. Holder led Lake Dallas with 92 yards on 13 carries to go along with Haehn’s 55 yards on eight carries.
Denton ran all over Western Hills for 246 yards on 32 carries, with senior running back Deavonte Doucet pacing the Broncos with 89 yards on 10 carries. They passed for 242 yards with just one incompletion.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.