As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Ron Poe Stadium on Thursday night, the scoreboard indicated that the McKinney North Bulldog players, fans, and students were about to celebrate their third win of the year in the final game of the season.
After demolishing the Denison Yellow Jackets 62-24 with a strong running game and solid defensive effort, the normal celebration that would ensue following a performance like that just wasn’t there. Instead, the players made their way through the handshake line with Denison and proceeded over to the home stands, where the 26 senior players would hear the school fight song one more time as a football player in McKinney.
That is when the emotions began to come out.
As players listened to coach Mike Fecci speak for the final time this season, many seniors began to realize that this would be the last time they would wear the orange and blue of McKinney North on the football field. After the team broke it out for the final time, several seniors stayed around and hugged one another, some doing better than others at fighting back the tears of a roller coaster season for the Bulldogs.
In fact, Fecci says you can compare the 2012 Bulldog season to the Six Flags ride “The Titan.”
“You ever ride the Titan? It’s kind of like that,” said Fecci. “You get real excited about it hiking up the track with all the anticipation, then you go down the hill and back up, and then it flips over then back up, then you blink and it’s over. It’s kind of like that. It was a real up and down year for us. There were great, happy, sad, and down times for us, and then bang, you blink and it is over. That’s how I can describe it. It was fast. It went by really, really fast this year.”
While both Denison and North entered the Thursday night matchup eliminated from playoff contention, fifth place in the highly competitive District 13-4A was still up for grabs. It may not have come with a playoff berth, but Fecci and his staff said that finishing in fifth was important to them to show they could finish the season out strong.
“We, as a staff, talked about it,” said Fecci. “That is important to us to put us in a place we felt like we needed to be. I am a firm believer in that if you are not going to go to the playoffs, you want to beat everyone that is not going and your losses need to be to people who are going. If you can do that then you can live with that. Things always work out for a reason.
“The people who are going to playoffs are going because they won the games they needed to win to go, and kudos to Wylie, Wylie East, Lovejoy, and Sherman and I wish them the very best and know our district will be represented really well.”
The Bulldogs had many seniors who had big performances on Thursday night, but none was bigger than running back Justin Jones. The senior back ran for 245 yards on 32 carries, including three rushing touchdowns.
His first touchdown came in the second quarter with North leading 28-9. After the Bulldogs had recovered an onside kick, Jones ran up the middle for 19 yards and was tackled at the three-yard line, before scoring on the very next play.
Jones’ second touchdown came in the third quarter after quarterback Ben Dutze attempted to hit Tre Sanders on a pass in the end zone that was called for pass interference on Denison. With the ball placed on the two-yard line, Jones took the handoff and went right up the middle for the touchdown.
His final touchdown of his high school career came in the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs drive started at the Denison 19-yard line. Jones ran the ball all six plays of the drive, capped off by a three-yard rush up the middle for a touchdown to put North up 62-18.
After his incredible performance, Jones had no idea he had run for that many yards in the ball game.
“I really had no clue,” said Jones. “This is my senior year so I just left it all on the line.”
Justin’s running mate Ronald Jones ended the evening with 100 rushing yards on eight carries and three touchdowns of his own, including two scoring runs of 35 and 42 yards in his first two carries of the game.
“We got the ground game going early with Justin and Ronald both pounding it up in there,” said Fecci regarding his team’s running game performance. “But I can’t say enough about our offensive line and how much better they have gotten since week zero. They have consistently gotten better and better and they are very tight nit. They take it personally and get mad when we throw it, but at the same time I am really proud of all of them.”
While the running game took center stage tonight with 348 total rushing yards, quarterback Ben Dutze finished the night with a perfect stat line. The junior signal caller finished 7-of-7 passing for 92 yards and two touchdowns that were both caught by senior wide receiver Marcus Nobles from 27 and 23 yards.
After a season of coming up short of making the big play in games, the Bulldogs came up with three sacks on defense in third down situations that stalled Denison drives, and had a special teams score when senior Marc Bresnahan returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Despite having every reason to come out flat in the season finale, Fecci couldn’t have been prouder of the character his guys showed.
“To come out that way and end it like that was nice. It was what we set out to do was to play the game hard and get after people. We had every reason in the world not to come out and do that, but I think they showed a lot of character and a lot of guts. The legacy these guys leave may not be a playoff legacy, but they had guts and played no matter what happened. I hope that our younger guys will carry that into the offseason.”
While the Bulldogs and their fans probably wish they could have found it sooner, Justin Jones believed his senior class got something back on Thursday night.
“Swag,” said Jones. “We finally got our swag back tonight.”
Photos by DJ Newman