If you wanted offense, offense, offense, then this match-up in District 9-4A Thursday night at Ron Poe Stadium in McKinney was the game for you. Denison came into the game having scored at least 44 points in every game. McKinney, despite its losing record, had scored at least 28 points in every one of its games. But what happened when the two schools met for the first time since the final game of the 1993 regular season ended up in the record books as the sixth-highest scoring game (129 total points) in Texas high school football since 1951.
Denison junior running back D.J. Jones set several school records as he had 434 yards and seven touchdowns on 30 carries. He also caught a 27-yard screen pass for a touchdown. He now holds Denison single-game records for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and most points scored.
McKinney quarterback Zach Lee finished the night 27-of-46 for 420 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
The goal for each defense was simple enough — executing it turned out to be the problem. McKinney had to stop Denison's running attack of quarterback Jordan Taylor and Jones. Denison had to stop McKinney's aerial attack led by Lee and the return of his top receiver Matt Lipka, who had yet to play a game because of commitments to the USA baseball program.
Denison started off this historic contest as Jones raced 78 yards for a touchdown on the game's second play. But McKinney had the stronger offense in the first half, scoring on six of its seven possessions.
Brett Helt, who had 185 yards on 32 carries, scored the first of his two touchdowns to tie the game at seven. The Lions caught Denison off-guard with an onside kick and turned that drive into points — an 11-yard touchdown catch by Lipka, who finished with 10 catches for 199 yards.
After Denison was forced to punt, Jared Farley caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Lee and McKinney had a 21-7 lead that lasted only a minute as Jones had a 70-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds left in the FIRST QUARTER.
Three minutes into the second quarter Heldt scored from nine yards out but on Denison's first play Jones went 77 yards for the touchdown and Jordan Taylor ran in the two-point conversion. McKinney turned the ball over on downs and Jones had a nine-yard touchdown run that have Denison a 29-28 lead with 2:48 left in the first half.
The rest of the quarter belonged to McKinney. It took the Lions just three plays to score — a 28-yard touchdown catch by Dario Jackson — and Denison took a gamble near midfield and faked a punt on fourth and five. But Jones was stopped a yard short of the first-down marker with 43 seconds on the clock and Lee connected with Lipka for a 14-yard score with seven seconds left to give McKinney a 43-29 half-time lead.
Lee finished the first half by completing 21-of-31 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns while Jones led Denison with 272 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries.
McKinney got the ball to start the third quarter and was looking to go ahead by three touchdowns. But Lee's first big mistake was a 14-point swing as Shalamar Traylor returned an interception 53 yards to make it a one-possession game. Denison forced the Lions to punt for the first time and Jones capped a six-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown run at the 4:28 mark of the third quarter to tie the game at 43.
At that point the teams started trading touchdowns — Lipka caught a 57-yard score to put McKinney ahead but Jones responded with a 30-yard run. But Denison's defense started to get pressure on Lee and after forcing another punt, Jones took a screen pass 27 yards for a touchdown with 8:26 left in the game to give Denison a 57-50 lead.
McKinney had an answer. Aided by a strong kickoff return by Lipka into Denison territory and a late hit penalty tacked on to the end of the run, the Lions scored in three plays on a Heldt three-yard run less than a minute later to tie things back up. McKinney recovered another onside kick and went ahead, 64-57, when Lee connected with Jackson on a five-yard touchdown on a fourth and goal play with 5:32 left.
A 51-yard kickoff return by Cody Reeves gave Denison its starting point of the McKinney 46-yard line. Four plays later Jones scored his final touchdown, a 37-yard run on a fourth-and-one play. Taylor ran in the two-point conversion out of the swinging gate with 3:32 left to give the Jackets a 65-64 lead.
Lee's last chance to lead a comeback attempt ended when he was intercepted by Evan Ramsey on third down as the junior tried to squeeze in a pass to Lipka past a double-team with 3:01 left. Despite having all of its timeouts, McKinney was unable to stop Denison from picking up three first downs and running out the clock to preserve the victory. McKinney finished with 644 total yards while Denison had 603 total yards.
With the winner of this game being the only 9-4A team guaranteed to go to 2-0, Denison head coach Cody White made what could have been described as nothing short of a gutsy decision to go for two points on the final touchdown.
"Wanted to get a win," White said. "At that point, what the heck's a tie going to do? Those are two extremely good offenses. I'd like to not have to match them for that many points."
For the first time this season, Denison played a team with an outstanding quarterback and nearly got burned in the win column. Although the Jackets made the right adjustments at half-time, Denison can't afford to have another first-half like it did and expect to win. It won't get any easier for the Jackets as district play continues with Frisco Wakeland and Arkansas commit Will Secord on Friday. But for the fifth week, no one has found a way to stop Jones and Taylor who combined for 564 rushing yards. While Jones probably won't have 400 yards again, his lowest output is 135 yards. He's also scored 18 rushing touchdowns. Denison's escape allows the Jackets to remain the district favorite. Denison, Sherman and Centennial all moved to 2-0 and the Jackets don't face them until the final two games. No slip-ups between now and then and Denison controls its destiny en route to the 9-4A crown.
The same problem reared its ugly head for McKinney — the Lions scored more than enough points to win but the defense didn't do its part. McKinney could easily have three wins right now but in all four losses they have allowed at least 35 points. And if opponents though McKinney looked great on offense in the first month of the season, the return of Lipka has made them even more dangerous. With an offense like this, McKinney will still be in the mix for a playoff spot. The defense, however, will ultimately decide the Lions' face.