Big Red rolls to milestone victory
The Denison offense piled up 475 yards of offense which led to a 42-7 rout of North Coast Athletic Conference rival, Kenyon College, on Saturday in Granville. The victory was the seventh of the season for the Big Red, which marks the most wins in a single season since the 1986 squad went 9-1.
On an afternoon in which DU said goodbye to a 14-member senior class, the Big Red put together its finest team victory of the season. Kenyon checked in with one of the conference's top defenses led by Kolin Sullivan who led all of NCAA Division III in tackles for a loss and was ranked third in the nation in sacks. Sullivan was shut out in both categories while the Denison defense were the ones making the big plays.
The tone was set by the offense in the first quarter when Colin Morris sprinted 48 yards for a touchdown on Denison's fourth play of the game. The defense would follow up Morris' fireworks with a quick six-play drive that netted just 13 yards for the Lords. After the Kenyon punt set up DU on its own 28-yard line, Brandon Sklenar went to work. He started things off with a 32-yard run on first down. Then he connected with his favorite target of late, John Wilson, for 17-yards that get them down to the 11-yard line. On 2nd and 8, Sklenar called Wilson's number once again for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
The Lords would respond with its only score drive of the game on its ensuing possession. The 16-play, 69-yard drive would be capped off by a Blake Calcei 1-yard TD run.
DU would strike back in the waning minutes of the quarter. A Kenyon three-and-out followed by a 27-yard punt by Antionio Cataldo gave the Big Red excellent field position as their drive started with just under five minutes to play in the half. An 11-yard pass from Sklenar to Morris on third down got them clicking. Sklenar continued his aerial assault with a 26-yard pass to DuShawn Brown who was tackled on the Lords' 4-yard line. After Wilson was stopped just shy of the goal line, Sklenar went with the play action fake on third down and passed to senior fullback Jack Varanese for the 1-yard score. That marked Varanese's third receiving touchdown of the season and his fourth touchdown, overall.
With a 21-7 halftime lead, DU would begin the second half in the same fashion it started the first. A 29-yard touchdown pass by Sklenar to Wilson on the first drive of the third quarter gave Denison some breathing room. They slammed the door with just under eight minutes in the quarter when Morris punched in from the 1-yard line, capping an 11-play, 63 yard drive making the score 35-7.
Denison's final score would come early in the fourth quarter when Sklenar hit Morris on a 12-yard scoring strike.
The Big Red offense maximized its scoring chances on Saturday but the table was set time after time by the defense. Kenyon ran 60 offensive plays for just 181 yards. That's an average of only 3.0 yards per play. The Lords totaled 13 first downs to Denison's 24 and committed three turnovers.
Denison's defense pressured the Kenyon quarterbacks and the statistics reflected that pressure. The duo of Jake Bates and Max Boyd combined to go 6-for-21 for 69 yards through the air. Denison's Andrew Baird and Alex Willingham had interceptions while Dylan Hinde recorded a team-high two sacks.
Joel Elliott led the defense with 10 tackles, one half sack, and one fumble recovery in his final game of his career. He leaves DU with 173 career tackles.
Morris led the running backs with 90 yards off 18 carries. He scored twice on the ground and once through the air. Wilson finished with 81 receiving yards off five catches. He also ran the ball 13 times for 37 yards. He piled up 1,370 all-purpose yards in his final season at Denison.
Sklenar was 19-of-29 for 221 yards and four touchdown passes. His leading receiver was Brown who caught six passes for 114 yards. On the year, Sklenar totaled 2,895 yards of total offense (2,274 passing; 621 rushing). His 2,895 yards is the third-highest single-season total in school history.
As a team, the Big Red offense tied the school record for first downs in a season, matching the historic 1985 squad with 223.
While this season marks Denison's best season in terms of victories since 1986, it also marks the just the fifth season with seven or more wins since 1973. At 6-3 in conference play, the Big Red finishes in fourth place in the final NCAC standings. At 4-6 and 4-5 in league play, the Lords end the year in a three-way tie for fifth-place with Ohio Wesleyan and DePauw.