With only two District 5-4A games left on their schedule, the Denton Broncos know the gravity of their playoff situation, or at least know what they need to do at home today against second-place Wichita Falls Rider.
The Broncos (4-4, 2-3 district) evened their overall record and earned their second consecutive district win last week with a 42-14 victory over Azle. They sit a spot out of the playoffs behind fourth-place Trophy Club Nelson, which they visit to end the season.
Before Denton can worry about the Bobcats, who play at Azle today, the Broncos will face the Raiders (6-2, 4-1), whose only district loss came last week at the hands of Guyer.
“I just know we need to win,” Denton coach Kevin Atkinson said. “This game is the most important game. It’s senior night, so we want to send them out on a winning note. People are hungry. It’s been a really long time [since] this program has been in the hunt in week 9. From where we were last year to where we are now, it’s a totally different place. There’s different air and a different atmosphere. It’s kind of exciting.”
The Broncos control their own destiny, but if they can’t find a way to pull out a win today, they’ll need Azle to upset Nelson to have a chance in the final week.
Last year’s tilt saw the Broncos lose 40-7 on the road, but this year’s squad has shown it’s improved. Denton’s defense has helped give the offense breathing room with a defensive touchdown in its last two contests and four turnovers against the Hornets.
Senior safety Michael Husbands delivered a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Broncos’ 51-16 romp over Fort Worth Brewer two weeks ago, and last week the defense scored twice against Azle.
Before an exciting 103-yard interception return by junior defensive back Juan Campos, junior Israel Galvan’s 40-yard interception return came at a critical time with Denton up 21-7 and having just missed a field goal.
“At that point in the game, we took points off the board and we missed a field goal, so they [the Hornets] had a lot of momentum,” Atkinson said. “They needed to go down and score and needed a big play. A lot of times that happens, you get an outside receiver go inside on a post [route] and you’re in a ‘cover 3’ and the corner is going to sink inside with him, but [Galvan] did exactly what he’s supposed to do. He hung with him, he saw the running back coming out of the backfield and he knew what was happening. I was really proud of him.”
As for the shift in defensive prowess, Atkinson pointed to his team’s chemistry.
“I think we’ve settled down,” Atkinson said. “The game has slowed down for us defensively where we are becoming a more mature team, so we are getting more comfortable. Dylan Tekell played defensive nose guard last year, and he’s playing standing up this year. That’s difficult and different. Experience-wise, we’ve learned new techniques and everything is jelling.”
The defense will need another strong performance and win the turnover battle if the Broncos are going to be able to hang with the Raiders’ offense.
Rider senior receiver Davon Allison headlined last week’s 56-30 loss to district-leading Guyer with seven receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns — his third 200-yard game this season. Senior quarterback Chase London will look to bounce back from a two-interception game.
“They do a really good job of getting in different formations and trying to get you to misalign,” Atkinson said. “Our defensive ‘it’ is to align correctly, swarm and punish.
“If you get misaligned, they know where to hit you, so we have to be on our toes defensively.”
The Wildcats struggled with the Raiders’ formations as Rider took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter before Guyer answered with 28 second-quarter points.
Denton’s offense has shown in the past few weeks that it can excel in running and passing the ball. The Broncos are hoping to garner repeated success from sophomore running back Xavier Scott as well as junior quarterback Christian Rodriguez.
Rodriguez has eclipsed senior Cy Ward as the Broncos’ go-to quarterback recently with his accuracy, play on third down and presence in the pocket, but Atkinson has confidence in both quarterbacks to utilize their time on the field.
“Cy is still doing well, but we are going to Christian right now,” Atkinson said, explaining that Rodriguez will play two possessions for every one that Ward plays. “I’m happy with how they are both playing. The protection broke down last game and we still got a touchdown out of it. That’s what Christian kind of brings out a little bit — he keeps plays alive and has a knack of finding ways out of trouble.”