It has been a little while since the Yellow Jackets won a district championship. The last time they did — in 2013 — it was actually a four-way tie with Lovejoy, Wylie and McKinney North.
Just last season Denison was contending for the top spot. Denton Ryan stood in its way. And the Raiders will again this year.
The remaining undefeated teams in the 5-5A standings square off with the same goal in mind as Denison (7-1, 4-0) hosts Denton Ryan (8-0, 4-0) in district action at 7 p.m. on Friday at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium.
The winner will be guaranteed at least a share of the district title and can win it outright next week in the regular season finale. Both teams have already clinched playoff spots so the only thing left before the postseason is to settle the order in the standings.
“We’ve done a real good job of getting better very day and you can’t do that if you don’t work,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “I think it’s going to be a really good atmosphere with what is on the line.”
Denison earned its playoff berth with a 56-0 victory against Denton Braswell last week. Bubba Roberts scored three rushing touchdowns, Kenny Gaffney added two more on the ground and the Jackets led 42-0 at half-time in a game where the defense allowed just 97 yards in notching the program’s first shutout since 2008.
The competition gets turned way up this week against one of the best teams in the state. When realignment sent Denton Ryan back down to Class 5A two years ago, the Raiders were expected to be in that category.
A year ago Ryan went 14-1, the loss coming in the 5A Division I state semifinals — by a touchdown — to eventual champion Highland Park.
“They were an injury away from winning the championship so we could be playing the defending state champs. That’s how good they’ve been,” Rogers said. “They’re doing exactly what they planned on doing. That’s a quality program.”
In 2016, the Raiders seem to be on a similar path as the No. 3 team in the state. Ryan has faced every district team except for Denison and Rider. In addition to non-district games against Lancaster, Mesquite Poteet, Wylie East and Lone Star, the formula has been consistent.
Outside of a 28-21 victory against Frisco Lone Star, which is also ranked in the top 10, no one has held Ryan under 41 points. Outside of the season-opener, a 57-40 victory against Lancaster, no one has scored more than 22 on Ryan.
Last week against Wichita Falls, Ryan clinched its playoff berth. Spencer Sanders was 13-of-15 for 230 yards and five touchdowns to go with 117 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. Gabe Douglas had four catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns and Jamarion Robertson added a pair of catches for 77 yards and a score.
Sanders is committed to Oklahoma State and the three-star prospect is ranked as the 18th best dual-threat QB in the nation and the 60th best player in the state by Rivals. He shared the district MVP honors last season and so far in 2017 has completed 131-of-184 passes for 2,125 yards and 29 touchdowns against three interceptions.
Sanders also leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns and is second with 67 carries for 551 yards. Sophomore Emani Bailey has 551 yards and five touchdowns on 95 carries.
At receiver, Douglas is the main target. He is a three-star prospect who has committed to Texas Tech and is ranked as the 96th best receiver in the country and the 84th best player in the state. Douglas has 51 catches for 813 yards and 15 touchdowns. Robertson is next with 573 yards and four touchdowns on 24 catches but senior Chritauskie Dove is not far behind. He is a three-star wideout on Rivals and has 26 catches for 464 yards and six touchdowns. A freshman has worked his way into the mix and Billy Bowman Jr. has 22 catches for 264 yards and four TDs.
“They’re that talented,” Rogers said. “(Sanders) is as good and quick a thrower as I’ve seen. And you can’t double one of them out there because the other will kill you.”
Defensively the Raiders had to replace the other co-MVP of the district, linebacker Tyreke Davis who is at North Texas, district defensive MVP Earnest Brown, who is at Northwestern, first-team all-district lineman Dayton LeBlanc, who moved to Kentucky for his senior year, and six other starters who were first-team all-district as seniors.
The leading tackler is senior linebacker Kosi Eldridge with 87 tackles, including seven for a loss. Safety T.J. Walker is next with 65 and Tra Smith has 47. Five Raiders have at least seven tackles for a loss.