As the second year of a realignment cycle hits, familiarity breeds knowledge.
Going into a new district, each week of the season can bring some unexpected results since opponents have been thrown together and there might not be any history to look back on.
By Year 2, however, the pecking order has been established and the road to the playoffs mapped out. If you did make it, at minimum following the same blueprint should get you there. If you didn't, you know which teams you have to beat this time around to get in.
The Yellow Jackets maneuvered their way to the postseason with a third-place finish a year ago and will once again embark on earning the top seed for the Division II bracket when Denison (3-1) hosts Wichita Falls (2-2) in the District 5-5A opener at 7 p.m. on Friday at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium.
“Last year our goal was to just make the playoffs. We have bigger goals this season, make it as far as we can,” senior quarterback Austin Emery said. “We have to keep playing our hardest each week. We beat them last year but we're a different team and so are they.”
It has something of a similar feel for Denison. Denton Ryan is the lone undefeated team and considered the district favorite again. Denton Braswell is winless, still searching for the program's first victory. And in between are five teams dealing with varying degrees of departures from their 2016 rosters and believing they are worthy of one of the three remaining playoffs berths.
“I think the district — you have the juggernaut and everyone else,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “Everybody should feel like they have a chance.”
The Jackets had their three-game winning streak snapped last Thursday in a 65-57 loss against Frisco Heritage. It was the best performance of the year by the offense, which scored as many touchdowns against Heritage as it did in the first three games, but also the worst by the defense, which had allowed just 57 points total in wins over Trinity Christian-Addison, Frisco and Abilene Wylie.
Emery led the way with 25 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns and he threw for 217 yards and two scores, Bubba Roberts ran for 99 yards and a TD on 17 carries and had one of the touchdown catches and DeCurious Smith scored twice as the Jackets rolled up 598 yards.
“It's a big-play offense. They showed they can be that way,” Rogers said. “We're still figuring out who we are. The only negative is we lost the game.”
On the other side, however, Frisco Heritage finished with 651 yards — 451 on the ground. Amare Jones ran for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries and was 13-of-19 for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Heritage scored three times in both the second and fourth quarters.
“He's going to get his plays. We needed to limit them,” Rogers said. “Your self-confidence changes. You start thinking rather than reacting.”
As the 5-5A schedule opens and the Jackets start what they hope will end with a second straight trip to the playoffs, Wichita Falls has quite a different look than the team Denison beat last season.
First there is a head coaching change as Grant Freeman is now in charge, taking over for Paul Scharr and is the program's third head coach in three seasons. Then there's the fact these Coyotes already have won more games in 2017 than they did in 2016.
Wichita Falls was 0-4 at this point a year ago and on the way to a second consecutive 1-9 campaign. But after the Coyotes opened with a 35-10 loss against Sweetwater, they earned a 40-21 victory over Cleburne and then edged Arlington Heights, 15-13, before a 36-16 loss against Haltom.
Last week against Haltom, Wichita Falls was down only 16-9 at half-time before the home team scored three times in the third quarter to break the game open.
Marcus King ran 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown and Zach Williams, a sophomore, had a 14-yard TD pass to Jordan Hatton.
In the win against Cleburne, Williams threw for 222 yards and four touchdowns with much of that going in the direction of Hatton, who totaled five catches for 144 yards. A.J. Byrd led the team with 60 yards on six carries and added four receptions for 61 yards.
King has been a focal point of the running attack but the Coyotes seem to be in the mold of Denison, which has no problem using a combination of backs. King, Williams and Ben McAfee have all had double-digit carry outings so far this season.
Hatton has been the team's top receiver after being second-team all-district as a junior with Isaiah Johnson a strong second option.
“They're better than they were last year. They're very much improved,” Rogers said. “Our defense is going to have to play well.”