The first three District 5-4A games for Denton saw the Broncos fall to two playoff teams from a year ago in Guyer and Lake Dallas as well as Wichita Falls, which is unbeaten in district play and has the inside track to the playoffs.
If the Broncos have designs on putting their playoff drought behind them, today’s test at Fort Worth Brewer holds a good deal of significance.
“If we want to play in the postseason, we have to string some wins together,” Denton coach Kevin Atkinson said. “Our backs are against the wall. ... Both Brewer and the Broncos are in a game that both need to win, so that’s going to be exciting.”
Brewer (3-3, 0-3 district) also is winless in the district, and Atkinson sees a reflection of Denton (2-4, 0-3) when he looks at the Bears.
“They’re a lot like us — very athletic,” Atkinson said. “They’ve won some games early and haven’t won any games in district. We won some games early, and we’re still trying to piece things together to play a complete game. Who wins will be whoever comes out and doesn’t make mistakes.”
The Broncos have struggled to get all three phases of the game in concert in the district portion of their season. When the defense would hold, the special teams couldn’t follow up with a timely play. When the offense would score or at least maintain possession, the defense couldn’t make a crucial stop on third down or took a needless penalty.
In Denton’s 41-21 home loss to Wichita Falls last Friday, the Broncos’ kickoff game lacked consistency and their offense couldn’t overcome the team’s deficit.
To Atkinson, the process isn’t changing. His team just needs to get some self-assurance, and the opening part of the district schedule hasn’t given it a platform to build upon.
“We’re a better team this year, but everybody else in our district that we’ve play so far, they’re a lot better too,” Atkinson said. “[Wichita Falls] Old High is a lot better team than they were last year. So we just have to keep swinging the hammer and hopefully we can get that rock to crack. You become better when you have confidence. Faith leads to hope, hope leads to confidence and confidence leads to winning games. It starts with attitude and effort, and those are going pretty well.”
With the Broncos beating only Wichita Falls in district play last season, Atkinson says this season will be defined by his team’s ability to avoid bad habits and embrace the new methods the coaching staff is trying to instill.
“Instead of putting our head down when things don’t go our way, we have to rise above it,” Atkinson said. “That’s something that’s hard with a young team when it comes to winning.
“It’s no secret that Denton High hasn’t had a winning season in several years, but people learn the most by modeling. In the past, the model hasn’t been there for our kids, so it’s something where we have to branch out and do something that we haven’t done before when it’s not natural and it’s scary. You just have to have a little courage and walk through the fire.”
Schematically, the Broncos’ defense has had trouble adapting to the new teachings with missed tackles and bad angles, but Atkinson said that problem can be remedied with repetition and practice.
“We tell them to relax and make sure we’re all doing our job and what we’re supposed to do,” Atkinson said. “We had some freelancing on defense, which opened up some running gaps, and we kind of took turns offensively when something didn’t go right. It wasn’t the same person every time. That’s why it’s a team sport, and in my opinion that’s why it’s the best team sport. It takes all 11 guys.”
With the Bears losing their top quarterback and running back to graduation, junior quarterback Chris Gibson has taken the reins under new head coach Kord Smith.
Atkinson said he hopes his team will start off on the right foot tonight, something the Broncos failed to do in last year’s 45-13 loss to the Bears.
The Broncos fumbled on their opening play from scrimmage, giving the Bears the ball at Denton’s 7-yard line. Brewer took a 7-0 lead 26 seconds into the game and the Broncos were able to respond with a 95-yard kickoff return, but their offense didn’t score its only touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The Broncos’ offensive line will be challenged by Brewer’s junior linebackers Malcolm Davis and Damien Hernandez, so Atkinson anticipates an aggressive attitude from the Bears’ defense.
“They’re very physical up front defensively,” Atkinson said. “They’re really big, strong kids that really try to control the line of scrimmage. They’re pretty active with their linebackers. [Hernandez] and [Davis] are really good. Their inside linebackers can run really well. Their quarterback is very athletic and also plays safety.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.