A loss to Wichita Falls three games into its district schedule may have deflated past Denton teams, but head coach Kevin Atkinson says that’s when this year’s squad rose to the occasion, broke old habits and began to shine.
In their next game, the Broncos fell behind 10-0 to Fort Worth Brewer but rallied as a team on both sides of the ball. They beat the Bears 51-16 and made it consecutive District 5-4A wins with a 42-14 decision over Azle, then finished the season with close losses to Wichita Falls Rider and Trophy Club Nelson.
“That’s when I felt like we took that next step and it carried over to the Azle game,” Atkinson said. “I thought it carried over to the Rider and Nelson game, too. They were good teams; we just came up a little short. It gives us confidence that we can play with good teams. The way we played the last four weeks gave us confidence that we can compete.”
The Broncos (4-6, 2-5 district) did more than compete. Had they beaten the second-place Raiders, they would have had a chance to defeat Nelson in the final game of the season to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
In the second half of the season, the Broncos went 2-3 with all of those losses coming at the hands of playoff-bound teams.
Statistically, the Broncos showed the most improvement on the offensive side of the ball.
They more than doubled their total rushing output from 2012, and their average yards per carry jumped from 2.4 to 4.6. Senior quarterback Cy Ward and junior quarterback Christian Rodriguez improved the team’s completion rate from 64 percent to 69 percent, and the team doubled its touchdown production from 21 to 42.
The Broncos threw only three interceptions this season. Last year, they threw 12.
Denton had an arsenal of sturdy wide receivers — seniors Adarian Harris, Ke’Von Buris and Deandre Coleman — to thank for those improvements along with the running back play of senior Deavonte Doucet and sophomore Xavier Scott.
The Broncos are returning the bulk of their team next season, including the majority of their offensive line, Rodriguez, Scott and junior receiver Key’andre Hearvey, who figures to get the lion’s share of looks next year.
“I think we have a good nucleus of our team returning that are going to be able to lead the underclassmen that are moving up,” Atkinson said. “We totally increased our average yards per carry, and I think we were a lot stronger and more athletic. Just getting those looks and reps helps you even more. Of course we’re getting Key’andre back. He was our most explosive receiver, so that’s exciting.”
While the Broncos’ defense did get them into hot water at times, changes in philosophy and dedication to their teammates in district play helped the Broncos create 15 turnovers, compared with just eight a season ago.
“The anchor of our defense is going to be our defensive line,” Atkinson said. “Dailon [Holmes] and Adam Bershell are going to improve. We are getting Mitch [Damon] and Caleb Ridgeway back. We’re getting Hayden Gray back at outside linebacker, who was a sophomore and did really well. We’re getting three guys — Israel Galvan, Juan Campos and Gabriel Aranda — who play two spots back that are going to help us in the secondary.”
Denton is losing several key cogs on defense in Aaron Maxwell, Tyson Hokes, Michael Husbands, Zac Muthiani and Maurice Wharton, but Atkinson said the improvement the seniors showed should guide the returning players.
“The strength in the weight room, the execution of our game plans, understanding the game and the relationships they’ve developed have really doubled, which is a step in a positive direction,” Atkinson said. “Now we have to be determined to push ourselves even more.”
The final four district games for the Broncos provided a blueprint for how they want to play, especially with district realignment on the way, Atkinson said.
“The future is bright,” Atkinson said. “Next year, I don’t know what realignment will look like, but we need to get into the playoffs. This is our third year, and that will give us two full offseasons. We’re looking to cash in.
“Stealing an old quote from the late, great [coach] Bum Phillips, ‘We didn’t even come close to sniffing on the door of the playoffs,’” Atkinson said. “‘This year we knocked on the door, and next year we are going to kick the darn thing down.’”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.