The time for preparation is over. Now come the games that count.

The Sherman Bearcats hit the road Thursday for their District 5-5A opener against Wichita Falls Rider at Memorial Stadium in a match-up of teams looking to bounce back from losses in last week’s non-district finales.

Sherman (2-2) is coming off a 28-6 loss at Class 6A Garland Naaman Forest, but Bearcats head coach J.D. Martinez said the team has made progress during its four-game non-district slate.

“I think we’ve had some kids that have grown up,” Martinez said. “We’ve put them in some different situations and they have come through pleasantly. We’re finding out some places that even some younger kids can get in there and ix in with the older kids.”

Martinez said one of the biggest accomplishments so far has been establishing a team identity on both sides of the ball.

“Defensively, we want to bend but not break,” he said. “We want to rally to the ball and try to cause turnovers. Offensively, it’s all about moving the chains. We were struggling a little bit running the ball, whether we can run it or not, but I think our linemen are starting to jell and figure it out. I believe that we can run it.

“Our quarterback and receivers, when given the opportunity, they can complete it and move the chains. But at the same time, I still know we definitely need to improve in that trust factor. We’ve got to continue to work on that. It’s kind of difficult for a quarterback to know these guys and really have that trust to stay in the pocket. We’re still working on that issue.”

Sherman comes in averaging 356.8 yards (166.3 rushing, 190.5 passing) and 25.3 points per game. Nathaniel Omayebu (70-371, 4 TDs rushing) and Michael Wallace (34-202, 2 TD rushing) give the Bearcats a potent 1-2 punch on the ground. Quarterback Blaise Bentsen (52-94-1 762 yards, 7 TD passing) and wide receiver Tylor Jones (15-278, 2 TD receiving) spearhead the passing game.

With district play starting, Martinez said, now is the time to employ any special packages or plays that may have been held back the first four games. The Bearcats struggled in the red zone last week, getting just two field goals on four possessions inside the Naaman Forest 15-yard line.

“I think now it changes just because you know that you do want to show it,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to win these no matter what. Whether that’s a goal-line package we’re putting in or more of our quarterback running the ball, those are certain things we’ve got to be able to do and willing to do because you’ve got finish these next six games at least in the top four.”

Defensively, Sherman has allowed 358.3 yards (222.8 rushing, 135.5 passing) and 29.3 points per game. The Bearcats gave up a season-low 262 yards to Naaman Forest. Martinez said the Bearcats have some new wrinkles on that side of the ball.

“You know who your guys are, where you can move,” he said. “We have moved Gage Smith from a safety to an outside linebacker, kind of trying to put a little bit more on his plate as far as being more aggressive and putting our kids in position to be successful.

“We’re just trying to move all the pieces around to make sure. We want to take away their top three or four plays that they do, and at the same time (find) where they give us the advantage offensively, where do we think we can attack them.”

Martinez said injuries are starting to become a factor for the Bearcats, but no one is expected to miss significant time. Wide receiver Jaylyn Cleamons was held out last week but defensive back/receiver Ben Cross suffered a high ankle sprain against Naaman Forest. Cross saw his first extensive action on offense in the game, catching three passes for 19 yards.

“(Cleamons) had a pulled groin and we wanted to keep him out (to be available) for this game coming up, for district,” Martinez said. “We wanted him to heal up.

“Ben Cross is probably out. He probably will not be able to go this week. That hurts us pretty good. We’re going to just have to try to make it without him. Our kids are going to have to rally. Next man up.”