CORDERO ESTREMERA, Asst. Sports Editor—Denison football accomplished its season-long goal of capturing the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Championship, a goal that was considered possibly out of their reach at various points throughout the year, though, this group never once settled.
Their efforts culminated in their senior day beatdown over Kenyon, which concluded 52-13. The win, along with the rest of the final results from around the conference brought Denison into a three-way tie at the top of the NCAC with Wabash and Wittenberg at 7-2.
Unfortunately, only one team can earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament from each conference, and Wabash got the nod this season due to their head-to-head wins against Denison and Wittenberg.
Last season, the Big Red were the benefactors of a tiebreaker at the top of the conference, when they earned their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1986.
Five minutes into the first quarter the Big Red scored an early touchdown: a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Alex Minton ‘20. Feeding Minton the ball would become a theme for the Big Red offensively, as it has been all season long.
Following this, neither team could manage to build any momentum offensively in the early going. These were the only points scored until the second quarter.
Kenyon broke the stalemate, capitalizing on a 7-play 60-yard drive with a touchdown. The score was even at 7-7, but the momentum resided with Kenyon. Late in the second, Kenyon seemed to have taken control of the game after scoring their second touchdown on a pick six to pull ahead 13-7 after a failed PAT conversion.
The Big Red responded immediately and completely changed the course of the game from that point on.
It began with an electric 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Peyton Vining ‘21 caught the ball inside Denison’s 10-yard line and began sprinting down the sideline. Denison’s return team began blocking Kenyon’s defenders, launching their bodies to create a lane for Vining. All of a sudden, the Big Red found themselves with a lead again, 14-13.
This time, they wouldn’t look back.
In the third quarter alone, Minton rushed for 137 yards on the ground, including an 11-yard touchdown, his second of the day.
This marked the start of the Big Red’s train engine as they began to steam past Kenyon. The Lords had no answer on either side of the ball.
Denison’s defense suffocated Kenyon’s offense, preventing them from finding any rhythm. Quarterback Drew Dawkins ‘22 completed two touchdown passes to wideouts Sam Looker ‘20 and Vining. The 10-yard touchdown was the first of Looker’s career.
After tallying up three scores, the third quarter concluded with a score of 38-13 in Denison’s favor.
Minton recorded his third touchdown of the game, while Dara Laja ‘20 recorded his third of his career in the fourth quarter. The Big Red defense continued to be relentless in the final quarter, not allowing the Lords to gain any traction.
The game concluded in a 52-13 victory which was made possible by both sides of the football. As it turns out, Vining’s second-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown sparked the beginning of 45 unanswered points for the Big Red. Not bad for a response to a slow start.
Minton finished the day with 25 carries for 255 yards and three touchdowns. The impressive statline was a fitting way to close Minton’s incredible career, but not before it gave him the Denison record for both rushing touchdowns and yards in a season.
Denison’s defense held Kenyon to 23 rushing yards on the day, an impressive feat for any defense. This year’s group of defensive players has been nothing short of spectacular in the way they have helped the Big Red to control games.
Denison’s senior football class has cultivated a culture of resilience and relentlessness; they never backed down from a challenge and worked not only as a team, but as family toward their goals.