There was a lot of pressure on the Denison defense, particularly the secondary, going into last week's district game against McKinney.
Don't think the Yellow Jackets will have any time to take a breather this week as Denison (4-1, 2-0) takes on Frisco Wakeland (5-0, 2-0) at Pizza Hut Park on Friday night in a battle of first-place teams in District 9-4A.
"It takes very special players to play in the back end with the way people throw the ball around these days," Denison head coach Cody White said. "You can look like an idiot very, very quickly."
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The workout defensive backs Cody Reeves, Darian Springfield, Hayden Chapman and Jake Marcum got chasing around Lions receivers in a 75-37 victory last week will serve them well against the Wolverines, who are a high-flying act themselves.
"They're going to make you defend the whole field. It's a test," White said. "McKinney did the same thing."
Denison responded against the Lions -- the first team the Jackets faced with a vertical passing game -- by forcing five turnovers and helping build a 31-0 lead in the second quarter.
Reeves spent the night shadowing standout receiver Matt Lipka, who had 122 yards and two touchdowns but almost all of that was in the second quarter, in single coverage with some safety help over the top.
"That's a no-brainer move. He's our best cover guy," White said. "He was under a lot of pressure. They caught us one time but he pretty much was able to handle himself."
Marcum, a senior, and Chapman, a sophomore, are both in their first year starting at safety and have acclimated well.
"These two guys both have pretty good range, which you want at that position," White said. "They're pretty good athletes. There is a learning curve with both guys."
And while the learning may continue, the secondary has shown it can pick up key lessons on the fly.
"We have to make tackles. They have some guys who can make some big plays," White said. "Our up front kids have to dominate. That's what makes us go."
While the contest is an early battle between first-place teams, the game may have long-reaching effects on playoff seeding. These two teams are the two smallest schools in the district, meaning a tie at the end of the regular-season would fall on a head-to-head tiebreaker, with the victor gaining the top seed out of the district in the Division II bracket.
Wakeland is off to a 5-0 start for the first time in school history and has already matched its win total in district play from last season.
"We played with a lot of composure and the kids were ready. They know how important this is," White said. "I think Wakeland's going to be a playoff team."
In a 35-28 victory over Frisco Centennial last week, David Robason ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries and Tyler Kirkindoll threw for 248 yards and a pair of scores.
Wakeland opened 9-4A action with a 42-41 victory over McKinney, stopping a two-point conversion by the Lions in the final two minutes to preserve the win.
Kirkindoll has thrown for 1,568 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception while completing 70 percent of his passes. Dallas Grier has 30 catches for 658 yards and six touchdowns while tight end Trent Smiley is a Kansas pledge like Denison defenders Jimmay Mundine and Jaqwaylin Arps.
"The quarterback's really accurate. They're going to execute," White said. "The receivers are excellent. They're big and can make plays."
Last year was the first meeting between the schools and Denison came away with a 45-14 victory behind 226 yards and three touchdowns by D.J. Jones. But in this game both the quarterbacks will be new faces to the opponents -- Will Secord, now at Florida State, led the Wolverines while Hudson Milford was behind center for Denison in his first game filling in for Taylor, who had broken his collarbone the week prior and was sidelined for a month.
"I think people underestimate Jordan, especially how he runs," White said. "They've got film through trades but in terms of seeing him in person, they don't have that experience to look at."
Senior defensive end Aaron Morrison is questionable this week after injuring his right foot in the victory over McKinney but White said his plan was for Morrison to play, noting it would be a game-time decision.
Although there are no broken bones, Morrison was in a walking boot this week and hadn't practiced yet. He had four tackles, two sacks and three quarterback pressures against the Lions and has 15 tackles and three sacks on the season. If Morrison does not play, junior Malcolm Wright will start in his place and senior Josh Holland would rotate at the position.