With the District 5-5A schedule starting Thursday with Sherman’s visit to Wichita Falls Rider, the race is one to see which four of the seven district members will be playing an 11th game.

A year ago, the Bearcats were left out after going 2-4 in district with losses to Rider in the opener and Denison in the finale making the difference. Sherman entered the final week of the 2016 regular season needing to defeat Denison by six points to create a three-way tie for third place with the Yellow Jackets and Rider and advance on a point-spread tiebreaker.

Heading into his second district campaign with the program, Sherman coach J.D. Martinez said the 2017 race could again go down to the final week before the four playoff qualifiers are determined, but the Bearcats first need to take care of business Thursday.

“You don’t want to overlook this week, of course,” Martinez said. “The only thing that matters right now is Rider. They’re the most important team to beat.”

In 2016, Denton Ryan went unbeaten in the regular season to win the 5-5A title and advanced to the Class 5A Division I state semifinals before losing 31-24 to eventual state champion Highland Park. The district’s other playoff representatives were all eliminated in the first round with Denton High losing 31-29 to Justin Northwest in the Division I bracket. In Division II, Denison lost 56-29 to Saginaw Boswell and Rider lost 63-20 to eventual state champion Aledo.

In 2017, Martinez said, Sherman, Wichita Falls High and Denton Braswell are looking to crash the party, but Ryan, ranked No. 3 in the latest Class 5A state poll, remains at the top of the heap.

“As you look at the whole deal, everybody’s jockeying for position,” he said. “The cream of the crop, everybody would have to say, is Denton Ryan. Denton Ryan is head and shoulders up there. They’re 4-0 and defeated state-level teams with Lancaster and (Frisco) Lone Star with all the new players they’ve got.

“After that, I think it’s pretty wide open. From last year to this year, it was Ryan, Denton, (Denison), Wichita Falls Rider and us. We were all in the mix into Week 10. Those are the five teams that were in it.

“This time around, You go, ‘well, I don’t know.’ Wichita Falls High is a lot better than they were. Braswell has improved because they got all their players back. It’s anybody’s guess who could be the second team, third team or fourth team. It’s going to be a fun round of what happens this week. We’ve just got to go into it and see what happens.”

This week’s games begin a seven-week grind that will weed out the pretenders. Martinez said the first-week results will give a hint of what to expect the rest of the way.

“I know we play Thursday there, and we’re going to go Friday and watch Old High at Munson Stadium. Not that I’m rooting for anybody. We’ll find out how they are. Some people think they’re really good, some people don’t know.

“Right now, I’m too busy worrying just about our team to think about anybody else.”

Grade concerns

Just as district play begins, programs face the end of the first six-week grading period of the school year. Any players not passing all courses become ineligible for at least three weeks beginning at the end of the school day on Friday. Ineligible students must wait seven calendar days after a three-week evaluation period and the grading period to regain eligibility, according to the University Interscholastic League.

“Grades, of course, are part of the game,” Martinez said. “No-pass, no-play comes into effect this Friday, which shouldn’t affect us this week because we play on Thursday. But our second district game, we may have some kids that could be ineligible. If they are, then we’ll cross that bridge and put the next kid in that can do the job.”

Martinez said academic issues and injuries could easily alter the balance of power in the district.

“I’d love to be able to get out there and have all the bullets in the gun and not have a chamber open,” he said. “Unfortunately for us, it seems like we always have a chamber open. We want to be able to get out there and go, but we’ve got to have people healthy and pass their courses for us to do these things.”

Try, try again

One of the highlights for Sherman in last week’s 28-6 loss at Garland Naaman Forest was a blocked punt by Brent Wilson in the fourth quarter. But it took a little work for it to happen.

Naaman Forest punter Erik Roque had two outstanding kicks nullified by penalty, helping create a swing of more than 75 yards in field position. On the first attempt, Roque had a 37-yard kick go out of bounds at the Sherman 7-yard line, but the Rangers were flagged for an illegal formation. The second attempt sailed 45 yards and went out of bounds at the Sherman 4, but Naaman Forest was penalized for holding.

The third time was the charm for Wilson, who broke through the protection to smother the kick. The block set the Bearcats up at the Ranger 19-yard line.