There were reasons to think that the 119th Battle of the Ax had a chance to come down to the wire for a second straight season. Yes, the Yellow Jackets have held the trophy for four years. But they were one play a year ago from having to try to get it back in 2017. And Sherman had a reason to feel better about the match-up as a playoff team. And it was in their stadium this time. Through the middle of the third quarter, it was a close game — Sherman was holding a three-point advantage. Trading touchdowns had one rival take the lead only to see the other side respond and jump in front. Suddenly, it all changed. Denison took control like the control it has had over the series in recent years. The Jackets kept the Ax for the fifth straight season, an unprecedented run by Denison and a stretch not seen from either side since the decade of the 70s. next year the game will change — the Bearcats and Jackets won’t be in the same district — but the same thing will be at stake. Denison still has the Ax. Sherman is still trying to get it back.
It was over when — Ty McFail scored on a 50-yard touchdown run with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter. The Jackets had just gotten the first turnover of the game, an interception by DeCurious Smith, as Sherman was trying to make it a 28-24 margin. The second play of Denison’s drive saw McFail burst through the right side untouched to put the Jackets up by three scores.
It was really over when — McFail scored on the first play of Denison’s next drive. The Jackets forced a three-and-out and took over at the Sherman 47-yard line. This time McFail went through the left side, breaking a few tackles along the way as the third quarter expired to give the visitors a 42-17 lead and cap a five-minute stretch that saw Denison score four touchdowns.
Player of the Game — A pair of running backs get the nod here. Bubba Roberts ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Ty McFail had 11 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns. They scored all but one of Denison’s TDs and helped blow the game wide open in the latter half of the third quarter. Three of their touchdown runs were from 47 yards out or farther.
Play of the Game — Pierce Barker’s 18-yard catch from Austin Emery to the Sherman six-yard line on fourth-and-seven in the middle of the third quarter. The game had turned into a contest of matching touchdowns. The Bearcats came out of half-time and scored for a 17-14 lead. The Jackets started their first drive of the third quarter right at midfield. Instead of kicking a field goal from the 25, Denison went for it and Barker hauled in the throw between two defenders. If Denison comes away with nothing and Sherman then goes and scores to take a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter, we might have seen a completely different ending.
The good — Making history against your rivals is always a good thing. The Jackets had another big offensive outburst with 49 points and nearly 500 yards (495) and almost all of it came across the final three quarters. Denison took control of a game that was in the balance for two and a half quarters with a running attack that wouldn’t quit. A four-point deficit turned into a 25-point lead in the blink of an eye. The h-backs were the stars of the passing game. Cayden Earnhart had four catches for 95 yards and D.J. Gray added three receptions for 22 yards and almost of those 117 yards came at crucial points. The defense came up with a goal line stand on Sherman’s first drive, which saw the Bearcats have first and goal at the one but come away with only a field goal. For the most part the Jackets bottled up running back Nathaniel Omayebu, who finished with 25 carries for 99 yards and a TD but he only had two runs longer than eight yards and they were both for 10 yards. On special teams the Jackets had very good kickoff coverage and they definitely won the field position battle on punts. The penalty department, or lack of flags by Denison, showed something considering the magnitude of the game. The Jackets had five for 40 yards while Sherman was at 14 flags for 133 yards.
The bad — Injuries lead off this segment. Starting linebacker Nate Maulsby missed his second straight game and then defensive back Zaelin Wimbish missed the final two and a half quarters after getting hurt. Health going into the playoffs is most important. The Jackets had another slow start, which unfortunately has become the norm. Denison was scoreless until the middle of the second quarter with a turnover on downs and a pair of three-and-outs before getting going. The defense showed there is still a weakness in the secondary. Sherman had some big plays in the air and missed on a couple of others due to drops. The unit also let quarterback Blaise Bentsen scramble for first downs on third-and-long to extend drives.
District dish — In addition to Denison’s win against Sherman, Ryan beat Rider, 56-7, and Denton Braswell beat Denton, 30-16, with Wichita Falls having the bye. The final standings have Ryan at 6-0, Denison at 5-1, Rider at 4-2, Sherman at 3-3, Braswell at 2-4, Denton at 1-5 and Wichita Falls at 0-6. Denton Ryan is the top seed for the Division I bracket and Sherman is the second seed. Denison is the top seed for the Division II bracket and Rider is the second seed. The Jackets will open the playoffs against Saginaw Boswell in a bi-district match-up at 7 p.m. on Friday at North Texas. It is a rematch from the first round last season.
Stinging stats of the week — Denison won its fifth straight Battle of the Ax, surpassing its record of four from 1945-48 and 1963-66. Denison has won seven of the last 10 meetings, 11 of the last 15, and 15 of the last 25…This is the longest winning streak for either side in the Battle of the Ax since Sherman’s 13-year run from 1969-1981 (12 wins and a tie. A tie meant the team currently holding it kept it)…The 49 points ties the second-highest total by Denison in the Battle of the Ax, equaling a 49-0 victory in 1956. Only the 59 points in 2003 are more…Austin Emery became the 14th Denison QB with 1,500 career passing yards. He is 388 yards from the top 10…Emery moved to 12th on the Denison list for completions with 107…Emery is 69 yards from the top 25 in Denison all-time rushing…Emery needs two rushing touchdowns to be the 20th Yellow Jacket with at least 20 in his career…Emery moved to 14th on the Denison career scoring list with 188 points (18 touchdowns, 74 extra points, two field goals). He is 11 points from 11th place…Kenny Gaffney is 14 yards from the top 35 in Denison all-time rushing and 308 from the top 25….D.J. Gray had the 25th catch of his career. He needs five to get to 26th in Denison history…Bubba Roberts had a career-high 21 carries for a career-high 147 yards and matched his career-high with three touchdowns…Roberts needs 108 yards to move into the top 50 in Denison all-time rushing…Ty McFail had a career-high 126 yards rushing and his second-straight 100-yard game…Cayden Earnhart had a career-high four catches for a career-high 95 yards…Pierce Barker had a career-high 18 yards receiving…Kenny Gaffney threw his first pass of the season. It was incomplete…DeCurious Smith had an interception….Sherman had 14 penalties for 133 yards.