Two teams who haven’t had this much early success in a while will meet on Friday night and one of them is guaranteed to continue on that path.
The Denison Yellow Jackets know it’s not how you start but how you finish. Their opponent, Abilene Wylie, is a perfect aspiration.
None of the Bulldogs, like all of the Jackets, have won the first two games in a season. But Wylie was the Class 4A Division I state runner-up last year. And the year before that made the state semifinals. The year before that they went three rounds deep.
Denison got a taste of the playoffs last year but bowed out with a bi-district loss. The Jackets have won two games they lost in 2016. Keeping the momentum will be tough as Denison (2-0) hosts Abilene Wylie (2-0) in non-district action at Munson Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday night.
“I think it’s a great measuring stick for us,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “You’ve got to make breaks happen sometime. There’s going to be adversity. How will you handle it? It can be a stepping stone to where you want to go or it can drag you down.”
Taking on the Bulldogs will be a good test for the Jackets, who are looking to get in sync offensively and continue their stout defensive work.
“It’s a great game for us. It was really good for us last year,” Rogers said. “You’ve got to be ready for them. They force you in the film room. They force you to be more aggressive.”
Denison is sitting with back-to-back wins to open a year for the first time since the 2008 squad made it through the regular season undefeated.
The Jackets pulled out a 21-10 victory against Frisco when Dalton Souther caught a 67-yard touchdown with 3:09 remaining to give Denison a 14-10 lead. Austin Emery added a TD run in the closing seconds after the defense recovered its third fumble of the game — the first being returned seven yards for a score by Logan Wagner.
“I thought the kids played well. What was good to see was there was no finger pointing,” Rogers said. “We’re searching for a rhythm and identity on offense. It’s a combination of everything. “
It was another strong outing for the defense, which allowed 10 or fewer points in a game for the first time since the 2015 opener. Through two contests opponents have 106 rushing attempts and just 208 yards to show for it, a 1.96 yards per carry average.
“We have the pressure on us to be better, make sure we’re doing the right play,” said Wagner, who had seven tackles (six solo) and three for a loss against Frisco. “We get off the ball good. We want to be making plays.”
Wylie is ranked No. 8 in this week’s Class 4A Associated Press statewide poll and already had some impressive victories. Last week Wylie picked up a 42-17 win against Lubbock Monterey but may have lost its quarterback, Sam King, to an injury. He did not play in the second half and that certainly changes the outlook for this match-up. Tyler O’Connor would be the starter if King remains sidelined.
“Their quarterbacks are always talented,” Rogers said. “They’re always the same. It doesn’t matter if they graduate them or get injured. They’re always good.”
Cason Grant helped pick up the slack with 170 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries as the Bulldogs are 2-0 for the first time since 2012. Wylie was down early but held a 21-10 half-time lead. Bailey Hicks added a rushing TD and Lane Ross caught a 35-yard touchdown from King before his injury.
“This kid’s very talented,” Rogers said about Grant. “Very patient runner who has very good speed.”
In the season-opener, the Bulldogs blew out Vernon, 45-6, by scoring on six of seven drives in the first half — five of them touchdowns. Grant had a pair of TD runs in the first quarter and King threw for 173 yards and four touchdowns, two of them by Gatlin Martin covering 30 and 65 yards.
From a defensive standpoint, the unit has been better through two games that last season. First-team all-district lineman Dion Novil graduated but the Bulldogs bring back Ryan Hamar, who was first-team all-district as a junior, and another first-team all-district pick in senior defensive end Anthony Guerrero.
The linebacking unit is almost entirely new with district MVP Brooks Pepper and a pair of first-team all-district choices (Braydon Ward and Trey Hooker) gone as well.