[By Mark Haslett, Special to ETSN.fm]

COMMERCE -- The Sulphur Springs offense slashed through Denison’s defense all night long.

The Wildcats rested their starters in the final quarter of Friday night’s 66-42 victory in a bi-district football playoff game at Memorial Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M University–Commerce. The loss earned Sulphur Springs (8-3) a trip to face Whitehouse (11-0) in the area round, while Denison finished its season 6-5 overall.

Sulphur Springs QB Larry Pryor. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The triumph marked Sulphur Springs’ first playoff win with converted quarterback Larry Pryor calling signals. After some growing pains back in August and September, Pryor has matured into a skilled quarterback whose running ability is now just one of the weapons in his arsenal.

“He just continues get better and better and better,” Sulphur Springs head coach Greg Owens said. “He’s figured it out -- he understands where to go with the ball. Mechanics don’t always look that pretty, but he sure knows where to put it. He stuck one over here to Alex Burney between three guys -- every one of our coaches is going ‘No, no, no, no’ but he sticks it right in there and Alex makes a great catch. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

As expected, Sulphur Springs star tailback/wideout Willy Ivery displayed his usual dominance, but his efforts were well supported by those of fellow receivers Burney, slot man Dillon Carpenter and outside target Isaiah Lacy. The Denison defense held its own in the trenches, but the Yellow Jackets’ linebackers and secondary could not match the speed and skill of the Wildcats’ wide receiving corps.

“Just trying to spread it around,” Owens said. “We want people to have to defense the whole field and we feel like we have kids everywhere that can contribute and do a great job.”

A four-touchdown second quarter sparked Sulphur Springs to a 50-14 lead approaching halftime. The deficit proved far too much for Denison to erase -- not with the Wildcats answering each Yellow Jacket touchdown with another one to keep the margin comfortable.

Sulphur Springs RB Willy Ivery. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The teams traded touchdowns on their first possessions of the game. Denison opened the evening’s scoring when junior quarterback Devon Blanton hit senior running back Colton Henslee on a 4-yard pass. Sulphur Springs responded a few minutes later when Ivery exploded with a TD run from 42 yards out for his first touchdown of the night. Senior wideout Isaiah Lacy’s conversion run gave the Wildcats an 8-7 lead.

“He’s coming into his own -- he feels it,” Owens said of Ivery. “It’s happening for him right now. He’s seeing everything he needs to see, making great reads and doing what he’s got to do. He’s really mobile as an athlete.”

On the ensuing kickoff, a pooch kick led to a scramble for the ball, with Sulphur Springs recovering. A few plays later, Pryor scored on a 15-yard keeper. Denison closed the gap to 16-14 when senior running back Khalil Brown scampered in from the 6-yard line, but the Wildcats answered on their next possession, which concluded with Lacy hauling in an 18-yard toss from Pryor that made the score 23-14 with seven seconds left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats took control of the game by outscoring the Yellow Jackets 27-7 in the second quarter. Pryor and Lacy connected again with a 26-yard touchdown pass, which was followed a few minutes later with a 27-yard TD toss from Pryor to Ivery.

Trailing 37-14 late in the second quarter, Denison drove into the Sulphur Springs red zone. Needing a touchdown to stay in the game, the Yellow Jackets instead threw an interception, which was snagged by Sulphur Springs junior cornerback Melroy Givens, who galloped 94 yards before being hauled down at the 1-yard line. Pryor rumbled in on the next play, and the rout was in effect.

Sulphur Springs caught Denison off guard on the kickoff. The Wildcats pulled on onside kick, which was recovered by Sulphur Springs at the Yellow Jackets’ 28. Pryor ran all the way for the TD on the next play.

“That’s today’s football, that’s the way it goes,” Owens said of the successful onside kick followed by the TD. “You gotta be ready to make plays.”

On the last play of the half, Denison’s Jaleel Dade scored on a 72-yard kickoff return that made the score 50-21 at halftime.

Any hopes Denison had of building on the momentum of that play were snuffed on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Pryor’s 33-yard touchdown run gave the Wildcats a 36-point lead once again.

Denison outscored Sulphur Springs 20-9 the rest of the way, but the evening had already been claimed by the Wildcats.

Owens said Sulphur Springs has the momentum it needs going into next week’s difficult assignment against undefeated Whitehouse, which beat Sulphur Springs 61-22 in the third week of the season.

“We needed momentum, to get this thing rolling,” Owens said. “Getting after it and getting excited, that’s where we’re at.”

-- Mark Haslett is the News Director at KETR-FM in Commerce


Class 4A Division II Region II
Bi-district Playoff

Sulphur Springs 66, Denison 42

Memorial Stadium, Commerce

Sulphur Springs -- 23 27 16 0 -- 66
Denison -- 14 7 15 6 -- 42

First Quarter
D—Colton Henslee 4 pass from Devon Blanton (Wade Walters kick), 8:29.
SS—Willy Ivery 42 run (Isaiah Lacy run), 7:23.
SS—Larry Pryor 15 run (Ivery run), 4:53.
D—Khalil Brown 6 run (Walters kick), 1:34.
SS—Lacy 18 pass from Pryor (Watson kick), 0:07.
Second Quarter
SS—Lacy 26 pass from Pryor (Watson kick), 7:32.
SS—Ivery 27 pass from Pryor (Watson kick), 3:02.
SS—Pryor 1 run (kick failed), 0:26.
SS—Pryor 28 run (Watson kick), 0:08.
D—Jaleel Dade kickoff 72 return (Wade Walters kick), 0:00.
Third Quarter
SS—Pryor 33 run (Watson kick), 11:48.
D—Eddie Moreno 4 run (Walters kick), 9:39.
SS—Watson FG 28, 9:39.
D—Brown 5 run (Moreno run), 5:25.
SS—Alex Burney 49 pass from Pryor (kick failed), 4:01.
Fourth Quarter
D—Drew Marr 34 pass from Blanton (run failed), 1:08.