At the beginning of the season there was hope that the Yellow Jackets would break their three-year playoff drought. After back-to-back losses to open the schedule, some of that hope started to disappear.

At the beginning of the season there was hope that the Yellow Jackets would break their three-year playoff drought. After back-to-back losses to open the schedule, some of that hope started to disappear.


But a change on both sides of the ball, both born out of an injury, helped propel Denison to six victories in the final eight games.


"That’s what really got us going," Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. "You could make the argument that since then we should be undefeated."


Junior quarterback Devon Blanton was pressed into duty at quarterback when Chance Rogers was sidelined with a concussion.


Senior linebacker Derick Bennett was back on the field after getting healthy and suddenly found himself without a set position, which turned out to be a good thing.


"I’ve got to do everything I’m coached to do," Bennett said. "I’ve got to get it done. It’s worked out."


The transformations have Denison (6-4) facing Sulphur Springs (7-3) in a Class 4A Division II Region II bi-district game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Texas A&M-Commerce.


"It’s real exciting since it’s the first time we’ve been here," senior captain Yefri Chavez said. "This is where all the camaraderie and trust comes through. We’ve got to believe in each other to get the job done."


Bennett’s versatility and the Jackets’ depth at the second level has moved him all around the scheme. On one play he’s a linebacker. The next he might be a stand-up end ready to blitz. Later in the drive he’s making an interception in coverage downfield as a safety.


"He’s one of the most versatile defensive players we have," Rogers said. "Derick’s made some great plays this season."


In just eight games Bennett has 76 tackles, 10 for a loss, three sacks, a fumble recovery and a team-high two interceptions.


"I watch a lot of film. We watch so much film as a defense," Bennett said. "I’ll see what was on film and I’ll know what’s coming. We think we’ve got a good chance. On every level we’ve got to step up."


Blanton has guided an attack that routinely approached 500 yards per game in district and finished averaging 445.1 a contest for the season. The Jackets are running for 346 per game, which is the highest average since 2008.


"The first couple of plays, you can’t be nervous. We’ve never been here before," Blanton said. "The offense is going to continue what we’ve been doing. It’s you win or you’re out."


Blanton has 863 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries while throwing for 617 yards and seven touchdowns in his eight starts.


"He’s done well," Rogers said. "He does a really good job of leading by example."


Denison enters the postseason off a 49-37 loss against McKinney North that led to a four-way tie atop the 13-4A standings. The Jackets had a chance to claim the district title outright but were unable to corral Ronald Jones, who had 230 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries.


"It’s like we’re on an escalator. Sometimes the power goes out and we need to put one foot in front of the other to keep moving," Rogers said.


Khalil Brown led Denison with four rushing touchdowns and he also caught a TD pass to account for all of the Jacket scoring. It was the first time Denison was held to fewer than 200 yards rushing in district play but the offense did score at least 33 points for the eighth straight contest.


There was a change in the starting offensive line for the second straight week with junior Quinton Scally stepping in for senior Justin Guth, who was sidelined with a concussion. Guth will be back this week.


This is the sixth time in seven seasons Denison has played Sulphur Springs and third in the playoffs. The two programs played non-district games in 2006-07 and had district contests in 2010-11 sandwiched around playoff match-ups.


The Wildcats beat Denison in the region semifinals in 2008, which was the only loss for the Jackets that season, on the way to the state championship before Denison avenged the loss with a victory in the region final in 2009, which was the Jackets’ last playoff win.


Not much has changed for the Wildcats, who are in the postseason for the seventh straight year with a high-scoring, fast-tempo offense and a defense that can be scored upon.


"You can’t be any faster," Rogers said about the Wildcats’ pace. "I really think our district’s going to help us. Wylie East snaps at 23 (seconds). McKinney North’s at 22."


Besides losing to Texas High in District 14-4A play, Sulphur Springs lost to Whitehouse — the potential next opponent for the winner in the area round — and Tyler Lee. Sulphur Springs averaged 43.4 points per game while giving up 36.9 per contest, which includes a 77-65 win over Corsicana.


The two have a pair of common opponents — Sherman and Paris. Sulphur Springs beat Sherman, 34-14, and Paris, 43-9. Sherman actually held the Wildcats to their lowest point total in a victory — the other six wins all included at least 43 points.


Larry Pryor has completed 154-of-244 passes for 2,349 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions and also run 121 times for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns.


The junior is joined in the backfield by Willy Ivery, who has 1,386 yards and 25 touchdowns on 157 carries.


Isaiah Lacy has 35 catches for 694 yards and seven touchdowns while Alex Burney has 40 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns as the top two receiving threats.


The line is mostly upperclassmen and led by juniors Landon Watkins and Jess Jenkins.


On defensive linebacker Dedric Smith is the leading tackler with 90 total (25 more than defensive end Garrett Hood) and 63 are solos. Pryor, who was an honorable mention all-state selection at safety last season, holds scholarship offers from Arkansas, Baylor, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.


"They’re very well coached. They’re athletic," Rogers said. "They’re a lot like us."