By Jason Della Rosa
By Jason Della Rosa
What’s the best cure for an Ax hangover? How about a dose of reality which has the Denison Yellow Jackets in sole possession of first place.
A program that has missed the playoffs the previous three seasons has everyone in the district looking up at the black and gold leaders in the standings after two weeks of 13-4A action.
"It’s easy to remind them. They really liked how they felt the last three Friday nights," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "That doesn’t happen if you don’t do things right Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday."
So as nice as it was to end one streak by beating Sherman and reclaiming the Battle of the Ax for the first time since 2009, the Yellow Jackets know they can’t lose focus as they try for that return trip to the postseason.
"We enjoyed it on Saturday and got back to work on Monday," Rogers said. "The cool part was on the bus (back from Sherman) they reminded each other that wasn’t our only goal. When they act like that it makes your job easier. They see the big picture."
The first opportunity to take the field with the target on its back comes as Denison (3-2, 2-0) hosts Royse City (1-4, 1-1) in a District 13-4A contest at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Munson Stadium. It is the quintessential trap game for the Jackets, who travel to defending district champion Lovejoy next week.
"Don’t take it for granted," senior running back Denard Whitfield said. "Not to get big-headed. Keep coming to work and every week striving to be at the top."
It is an unfamiliar position for the Jackets, who had won just seven games total the previous three seasons and only one of those came during the first-half of the schedule. Last year the first victory came against Royse City.
"We’ve just got to take care of our business," senior center Justin Bigelow said. "Doing whatever it takes."
Denison won its third straight game with a 42-24 victory against Sherman, using a fourth-quarter surge to put away its rival. The Jackets scored three times in the fourth quarter — two 40-plus yard TD runs by Whitfield and a 52-yard interceptions return for a score from Jacob Hunt — to pull away.
Momentum was with Denison from the start after the Jackets opened a 21-3 lead and carried through the biggest win in Rogers’ year-and-a-half tenure.
Whitfield had a career-best 202 yards on 23 carries while the Denison defense held the Bearcats to just 53 yards on 35 carries and forced four turnovers, two that were touchdowns.
"We’re swarming to the ball and good things happen when you do that," Rogers said. "They were getting after it."
Royse City is part of a six-team jumble for second place behind Denison. The Bulldogs opened district with a 30-14 victory against Greenville by forcing five turnovers and a safety before last week’s 42-13 loss against McKinney North.
North finished with 522 yards of offense, including 306 yards on the ground. During its current win streak Denison is averaging 371 rushing yards and the Jackets are producing 297 yards on the ground per game for the year.
Jackson Watts returns at quarterback but has a different supporting cast than in Denison’s 34-21 win last season. The two Bulldogs who scored against the Jackets — Michael Webb and Samuell Rushing — graduated but all-district tight end Bryce Wempa is back.
Watts has completed just 41-of-92 passes for 623 yards and four touchdowns with seven interceptions and also leads the team in rushing with 117 carries for 516 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It’s designed runs. He’s a very good athlete," Rogers said. "They give you a lot of formations to deal with defensively."
In the Bulldogs’ four losses, the offense managed more than 16 points just once — 27 against Prestonwood Christian — and the defense allowed at least 30 points three times — 21 to Forney being the lone exception.
"They’re going through some of the growing pains we did last year," Rogers said.