Much like a young child anticipating the arrival of Christmas, the Sherman Bearcats have been waiting all year for their next chance in the Battle of the Ax.
Through off-season workouts, preseason practices, non-district games and six weeks of District 5-5A competition, the whole season has been one long buildup to the annual rivalry game. And it’s almost here.
The 119th meeting between Sherman and Denison is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Bearcat Stadium.
“Here we are,” Sherman head coach J.D. Martinez said of his second go-round in the series. “It will be a fun game. Now that we’ve done it one time, it’s pretty good, but this will be our first time to be hosting it, so we’ll see what all happens.”
Martinez said the biggest factor from a coaching standpoint is to minimize the distractions that go with the rivalry.
“There’s a bunch that goes with it, but I understand it,” he said. “(Denison coach Chad) Rogers has been a huge help to me dealing with this week. He’s shared with me that sometimes you need to shut your door, sometimes you need to not answer the phone. Everybody wants to come in and share their Battle of the Ax stories from the 1950s to the 1970s to everything else.
“Although I haven’t really gotten very much of that. I do get hit up a lot more for sideline passes and tickets than any other time. I’ve got some friends coming in, so I need tickets. It kind of goes the whole nine yards. It’s kind of crazy, but at the same time it’s a fun game.”
With Sherman (5-4, 3-2) locked in as 5-5A’s No. 2 playoff seed in the Class 5A Division I bracket and Denison (7-2, 4-1) assured a spot in the Division II bracket, Martinez said the Bearcats can simply focus on playing the game.
“That’s all it for us,” he said. “Some of these guys have never seen the Ax. I want those guys to be able to bring it back, hoist it, show our fans and community that the Ax is back home.
“Last year was just amazing because it was the DQ Big Game of the Week and there were playoff implications. This year, it’s BOTA. It’s the 119th meeting between the two big kids on the block, and we get to go out there and play. It doesn’t have any playoff implications on Sherman. It could possibly have implications for Denison. But we’re just going to go out there and rock and roll and have some fun and play football.”
Sherman is looking to snap a four-year losing streak in the series, which would prevent Denison from winning five in a row for the first time.
Sherman enters the game averaging 363.7 total yards (218.8 rushing, 144.9 passing) and 30.7 points per game. Running back Nathaniel Omayebu (183-1,175, 17 TDs rushing) and quarterback Blaise Bentsen (101-181-5 1,304, 11 TDs passing) give the Bearcats the ability to attack either on the ground or through the air. Receivers Tylor Jones (34-538, 4 TDs), Jeremy Norvell (25-247, 2 TDs) and Jaylyn Cleamons (13-181, 2 TDs) have been Bentsen’s main targets.
In Denison, Sherman faces a defense that has allowed 328.6 total yards (172.0 rushing, 156.6 passing) and 27.9 points per game.
“Their defensive tackles are huge,” Martinez said. “Their front six are pretty good. They’ve got a really strong core. (Cornerback DeCurious Smith) is a first-team all-district kid and he does a really good job. The safeties run downhill pretty well and make some good tackles.
“Their interior is probably the biggest part of it. They’re pretty good at it. That’s going to be challenging for us because we run inside zone pretty well. It’ll be good stuff on good stuff. We’ll see who can stop who or who can be more successful.”
Defensively, Sherman has allowed 375.4 total yards (163.2 rushing, 212.2 passing) and 28.3 points per game. Linebacker Cody Hunter leads the team with 38 tackles, followed by safety Austin Bindel and linebacker Jalyn Cotton (37 each), safety Gage Smith (35) and linebackers Brent Wilson (31) and Devante Clayton (30).
Denison’s offense has generated 407.7 total yards (294.8 rushing, 112.9 passing) and 37.0 points per game. Quarterback Austin Emery (64-123-4 1,004, 10 TDs passing; 156-858, 12 TDs rushing) is the focal point of the Yellow Jackets’ attack. Emery, also Denison’s kicker, has scored 116 points this season.
“They do a really good job of moving it around and going tempo,” Martinez said. “Emery does a good job. Everything runs through him and he does a great job of it. He uses all of his blocking very well, the other running backs, everything’s instrumental for him. I think he does a good job of managing and field generaling his guys. He gets them going real fast, he slows them down. He’s a good quarterback. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”