When the Yellow Jackets made the playoffs for the first time in three years last season, Denison was able to ride an all-state running back in achieving many of its goals.
This year’s postseason qualifier has done things a little bit different. And the best example of that is senior offensive lineman Jadan Forbes.
As a sophomore he was the starting center and in line to keep that spot until his graduation. Forbes, a mountain of a man, hasn’t started since — he is a part of the second unit and contributes on special teams.
“I go out there and do what I can to make the team better. I might not get a lot of credit but that’s not important,” Forbes said. “We do what’s best for each other. I love all of them. They’re my brothers.”
Some players who jumped right into a prominent role and then no longer had a hold on it might sulk, pout, gripe or even quit. But Forbes, who’s served as a captain for seven games this season, has been a leader behind the scenes as the Yellow Jackets have turned more “we” than “me.”
“There’s been thoughts about quitting. But they’re just thoughts. It would show I’m not a man with good character,” Forbes said. “I’m not selfish. I want to be the most unselfish and good person I can be. “
It is seen in Forbes’ ability to defuse certain situations on the sideline as a voice of reason. It is seen in the fact that four Jackets rotate through the backfield and every one of them can claim they should get more touches. It was seen last week, when injuries had Kenny Gaffney switching from offense to defense because it was what the team needed.
“They’re the glue that holds the team together. He definitely leads with his heart,” Rogers said. “I think everybody needs a Big J in their life. Someone who makes you smile when they walk in the room.”
Making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in nearly a decade, the Yellow Jackets will try to improve on last year’s showing against the same opponent as Denison (8-2) faces Saginaw Boswell (9-1) in a Class 5A Division II Region I bi-district game at 7 p.m. on Friday at the University of North Texas’ Apogee Stadium.
The winner will face either Fort Worth Southwest or North Richland Hills in the area round next week.
“They talked about getting back to this point. They talked about getting back to this game,” Rogers said.
Denison enters the playoffs off another victory in the Battle of the Ax. The fifth straight rivalry win against Sherman — the first streak of that length by the Jackets against the Bearcats — came on the strength of four touchdowns in the final five minutes of the third quarter in the 49-24 victory.
“This is the most important game of the season now,” Forbes said. “Sherman, that was great and it’s in the past. We’ve got to go to the future now.”
Denison turned a 17-14 deficit into a 42-17 lead as Bubba Roberts had 21 carries for 147 yards and three touchdowns and Ty McFail finished with 11 carries for 126 yards and three scores.
“Our staff is very good at halftime adjustments,” Rogers said. “I’m not taking the credit. They deserve the credit.”
This is a re-match of last year’s bi-district round when the Pioneers came away with a 56-29 victory. Brayden Thomas was 23-of-32 for 353 yards and six touchdowns and Boswell totaled 630 yards.
“Very explosive offense. A lot more pass-heavy,” Rogers said. “Everybody has RPOs (run-pass option); they’re just a PO. We’re an RRO.”
Boswell has improved on its record from the 2016 regular season (6-4) and suffered only one loss — last week against defending Division II state champ Aledo in a battle for the 6-5A title and the top seed for the small school bracket.
Aledo won, 35-26, but the Pioneers led at half-time, 16-14, and were only down 28-26 going to the fourth quarter. Thomas threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Breshun Berry.
Boswell had a couple of close calls during its nine-game winning streak, including district victories against playoff qualifiers V.R. Eaton (15-14) and Fort Worth Brewer (25-23).
Thomas, a sophomore, has paced an offense that does much of its damage through the air. He is 162-of-274 for 2,473 yards and 31 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Classmate Brandon Chatman is Thomas’ favorite target with 72 catches for 877 yards and 12 touchdowns. Berry isn’t that far behind, however, with 46 receptions for 776 yards and 10 TDs. Jakoby Satroplus has six touchdowns and 350 yards on only 18 catches.
The leading rusher is Jay Garcia and the senior has 503 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries. Outside of Thomas, no other runner has more than 28 attempts, although Derrick Berry has four TD runs.
On defense, the linebackers are the most active tacklers. Malik Hubbard (119) and Caleb Genberg (115) have already cracked the century mark and Jason Tidwell isn’t far off from that milestone.
Boswell has held six opponents under 25 points and forced an average of two turnovers per game.