Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Football: Broncos return to playoffs
A few months ago, bringing Denton up in a discussion even remotely related to the playoffs would have drawn all kinds of strange looks.
With just two wins in the previous three seasons entering 2010, the Broncos weren't even favored to win a district game -- much less be in the postseason hunt. So Denton making the playoffs was pretty much impossible, right?
Apparently, the Broncos didn't get that memo.
For the first time since 2002, Denton will play more than a 10-game season after clinching a playoff berth by knocking off The Colony on the road in its season finale.
The only thing wilder than the Broncos' remarkable turnaround in District 4-4A this year has been the way they've done it.
Denton (4-6) exceeded its win total for the past three years during this season alone, and the Broncos did it in thrilling fashion. The Broncos won all four of their games by a combined eight points -- each of which required a clutch fourth-quarter comeback or a last-minute drive.
Not bad for a team that, until this year, had little to no big-game experience.
"When we get down and we start trying to play back and we're wondering what we're going to do, someone just always steps up," junior quarterback Dentton Hudspeth said. "Those people stepping up gets contagious, and it just builds and builds and we're able to come away with those Ws."
Take the Broncos' nondistrict contests against Carrollton R.L. Turner and Fort Worth Brewer -- exhibit A in Denton's turnaround.
Fresh off of a heartbreaking loss to Dallas Woodrow Wilson in its opener and trailing 27-21 with just under two minutes to play against Turner on the road, the Broncos pulled ahead on a 1-yard run by Hudspeth and a successful PAT by Michael Husbands and withstood a last-second rally to pull out their first win of the year.
Two weeks later against Brewer, things got even more daunting. After getting drubbed 37-14 by McKinney North, Denton found itself in the midst of what looked like to be another loss after falling behind 33-14 by the end of the third quarter.
Instead of fading away like expected, however, the Broncos pulled out a shocker -- exploding for 22 points in the fourth quarter to come away with a 36-33 win and its second victory of the season.
"They're a close-knit, special group of kids," Denton head coach Randy Patzkowski said. "I know sometimes that's a trite and overused thing to say, but they really like each other, they work extremely hard and their attitudes have been great. They never think that they're out of the game."
That attitude came through again just a few weeks later when the Broncos earned their first district win since 2007 during a 16-15 upset of Little Elm. Trailing 15-0 with under two minutes left to play, Denton scored back-to-back touchdowns and converted two straight two-point conversions to earn the one-point win and, suddenly, become relevant in the 4-4A playoff picture.
Maybe the most poignant moment about that comeback was Denton's postagame reaction. Sure, the Broncos were happy. They were ecstatic, in fact. Yet, according to Patzkowski, the revelry in the locker room wasn't the kind of out-of-hand celebration generally seen after a huge upset.
Instead, it seemed, well, expected.
"We'd done it before," Hudspeth said. "During that game, it was like, 'Oh, here it goes again.' It's almost like it's become a habit. There wasn't any doubt in our mind. It was just like, 'We can do this.'" It's that swagger that Patzkowski cites as the catalyst spurring the Broncos' success this season. Even after losing by a combined score of 111-9 in back-to-back games against Ryan and Wichita Falls Rider, he said the Broncos still had a bounce in their step leading into last week's showdown with The Colony.
"Honestly, we felt good," Patzkowski said. "We knew what we were facing in Ryan and Rider -- the teams that they're fixing to play in the playoffs are going to find that out, too. Our kids believed we were going to beat The Colony. They got ready, they were loose and they never thought they weren't going to win it."
They won it, indeed, in typical Bronco fashion. With less than two minutes to play, Hudspeth scored on a 5-yard run to give Denton the lead. The defense held on as time expired and, for the first time in eight years, it was time to celebrate.
"We had to really pick it up," defensive back Nick Carrell said. "We wanted to show people that, just because we lost by so much in those two games, that we weren't going to give up. To let them know that we were still going to fight and be gunning for the playoffs. No one gave us the slightest chance of doing well this year, but we stepped up in the end and came together."
They'll get a chance to do that again today when they face off with Hereford in their Class 4A Division II bi-district game at 3 p.m. in Sweetwater. The Whitefaces (7-3) enter the game on a three-game winning streak and managed to grab a share of the District 3-4A title with a season-ending 17-14 win over Canyon Randall.
Still, if there's one thing this season has shown, it would be foolish to count the Broncos out.
"Both teams are coming in with some momentum and a level of confidence," Patzkowski said. "Our kids flat-out believe that they're going to head down to Sweetwater and play hard and get a win."
MARSHALL MOORE can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is email@example.com.