Homecoming Kings: Wildcats play well in all facets to earn victory over Denison

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Sept. 15, 2007 - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats didn't let homecoming and the Fall Festival be a distraction in their game with Denison on Friday.

Instead, those activities provided a festive backdrop to the Wildcats' most convincing win in three seasons.

Sulphur Springs scored the first five touchdowns of the game and went on to a 56-25 victory over the Yellowjackets at Gerald Prim Stadium. It was the largest margin of victory for the Wildcats since a 66-21 win over Mount Pleasant in 2004.

SSHS junior quarterback Tyrick Rollison completed over 70 percent of his passes for the second time this season, finishing 19-of-26 for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Nine of his passes went to senior Jeff Beck for 112 yards.

The Wildcats (2-1) also got a special teams touchdown from Dalton Abner off a blocked punt by Tyler Francis and came up with three take-aways.

"This game had a little bit of everything," said SSHS head coach Greg Owens. "We had a fast start and some wild in-between stuff in there. We started fast and did a great job, put some points up and put some pressure on Denison."

When homecoming and Fall Festival weekend converge on the same night, crazy things seem to happen in the football game, and Friday night was no exception. Denison scored off a safety and a fumble recovery in the end zone, while the Wildcats blocked one punt and tackled the punter another time on a bad snap.

By the time all of that happened, though, Sulphur Springs was comfortably in the lead, thanks to a strong defensive performance and an efficient offensive output.

But, it was the blocked punt by Francis and touchdown return by Abner that seemingly sealed the deal early in the third quarter.

Sulphur Springs took a 36-0 lead, but Denison scored the final 12 points of the first half to take momentum into halftime.

Denison received the kickoff to start the second half, but went three-and-out thanks to stops by nose tackle Jamal Freeman, Francis and safety Johnny McSheffery. So, Denison punter Chase Kaufman lined up near his own 20-yard line to punt. But, the snap was low and bounced past him.

Kaufman picked up the ball and tried to punt, but Francis smothered the kick. The ball bounced around until Abner picked it up near the 5-yard line and scampered into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 42-12 advantage.

What momentum Denison had before halftime disappeared into a wild SSHS celebration.

"I thought Tyler played well, and Dalton Abner played great at corner," Owens said. "That's some good stuff. I know our TNTs (defensive linemen) played great, too. All of our guys in there played great. We were able to smother the run and make them one dimensional."

Denison did manage 178 yards rushing, but it took 51 plays to do it. Sophomore Jordan Taylor got his first start at quarterback for the Yellowjackets, but he completed just 4-of-9 passes for 34 yards and two interceptions - one on a leaping pick by McSheffery near midfield and another at the goal line by Abner to stop a potential Yellowjacket scoring drive.

Sulphur Springs had started its previous two games slowly on offense, but did not have that problem on Friday. Rollison directed the Cats to TDs on four of their first five possessions. The first drive went 61 yards in eight plays and culminated in an 11-yard scoring strike from Rollison to DaQualin "Boo" Evans. The next two TD passes went 9 and 4 yards to Chris Thompson, and the final one was a 9-yard pass to Beck, who weaved in and out of defenders to reach the end zone.

Rollison said the offense was more focused and relaxed than in previous weeks.

"We came out with more emotion than we did last week," he said. "We prepared all week and came out and played hard. It was our execution. Our execution last week wasn't that good, but we came out today and executed like we should."

In between, the defense was outstanding. Denison's second drive was stopped when linebacker Brittan Diamond stripped Taylor of the ball on an option play and outside linebacker Dillon Verner recovered at the Denison 26-yard line.

In addition to his fumble recovery, Verner was in on 11 tackles, the same as Francis, who had three sacks to go with his blocked punt. Diamond ended with six tackles while lineman Rodney Evans and linebacker Josh Dunn were in on nine stops each.

On Denison's next offensive possession, the Wildcats forced a punt, but a low snap put the punter, Kaufman, in trouble. Francis leveled him at the 22-yard line, setting up an easy SSHS TD.

The Wildcats' final TD of the first half came on sophomore Shane McQueen's 52-yard burst up the middle. McQueen clocked a 4.47 in the 40 this summer, and there wasn't a Denison defender who could catch him once he got in the open field. Oscar Marroquin knocked through one of his five extra points to give the Wildcats a 36-0 lead with 1:50 left in the half.

Denison found some life in the final 90 seconds, though, as their own sophomore runner, D.J. Jones did a McQueen impersonation with his own 52-yard scoring run up the middle.

That started a string of 12 straight Denison points, including a Larry Burns sack of Rollison in the end zone for a safety and a Kaufman 27-yard field goal, to end the half with the Wildcats ahead, 36-12.

The Wildcats' offensive line of Jake Russell, Dakota Graham, Colby Suggs, Mason Y'Barbo, Alex Peek and Beau Carpenter opened the way for 105 yards rushing for the Wildcats and 397 total yards. Rollison was sacked three times, but also managed to avoid pressure on several occasions and find an open receiver.

Once the Wildcats regained the momentum in the second half, they added to their lead on a 2-yard TD run by Diamond, set up by a nifty 55-yard catch-and-run by Boo Evans, and a 4-yard TD run by back-up quarterback Cedric Finnie.

"I was proud of the way they played and fought back," Owens said. "Again, it was a good experience in a lot of different situations. We really did a lot of positive and good things to get momentum back on our side and we finished the game strong like we should have.

"It was more balanced, I think. You have ups and downs in a ballgame, but I think we did more good than we did bad - I know we did."

Denison also punched in 13 fourth-quarter points on Brian Lilly's fumble recovery in the end zone after a sack of McSheffery, who was in at quarterback, and on an 18-yard TD pass from Taylor to Cody Reeves.

The Wildcats will travel to Sherman next Friday to take on the Bearcats (2-1), who suffered their first loss of the season, 28-27 to Terrell, last night.

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