Now that the Battle of the Ax is finally over, the Sherman Bearcats’ real football season can begin.
The Week 1 hype of the biggest game of the year is in the rearview mirror, and that allows the Bearcats and head coach J.D. Martinez to turn their attention toward completing the rest of their schedule with more victories than defeats.
“The Battle of the Ax is a huge game with a lot of emotions and a lot of things that go into it,” Martinez said.
The Bearcats (0-1), after missing out on a chance to rectify past setbacks on the playing field, are moving on from that and will host White Settlement Brewer for their 2018 home opener at Bearcat Stadium on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Last week’s 41-16 loss at Munson Stadium was almost a reprise of the 2017 rivalry game at Bearcat Stadium, where in both instances Denison broke open a close halftime game.
Thanks to Joel Nandin’s 35-yard field goal at the horn to end the first half, Sherman pulled to within 14-10 and was getting the ball to start the second half. Quarterback Blaise Bentsen connected with Landon Cole on a pair of sideline completions as Sherman managed the clock well and moved to within Nandin’s range.
“We were able to take advantage and make some completions,” Martinez said. “We moved it and used the clock correctly. We still had a timeout but we kept it in our back pocket for that reason (to kick the field goal). It was a good job by the kids and was well-executed, and our offensive coordinator Derek (Thompson) executed it well. It let our kids have an opportunity.”
After receiving the second-half kickoff, however, the Bearcats only managed one first down before being forced to punt. Denison drove 75 yards on just five plays for a 10-point lead, and the second-half rout was on.
“We did some good things, but … we made some errors,” Martinez said. “We made mistakes. When you have three turnovers and a blocked punt for six (points), you’re going to lose that game. We had that all in the second half. We just imploded, unfortunately.”
It wasn’t all bad for the Bearcats last Friday, though. Junior running back Mike Brown was a bright spot with 25 carries for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Mike was running varsity track for us his freshman year,” Martinez said, “and we took notice of him. He’s a pretty good little running back, but what we noticed in that track season was his fight and tenacity. He’s not a big kid, but the way he would attack and run (showed) he’s got a lot of heart. It carried over into his sophomore year and … when Mike Wallace was injured, we pulled up Mike Brown. He played the last four games in the backfield with Nate Omayebu and did some really good things. He’s a super kid.”
Martinez also singled out Gage Smith and Cody Hunter as defensive standouts for the Bearcats against Denison.
“Our defense played really well for most of the game,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately for them, they got tired because of our offense’s inability to move the chains. Those turnovers put them right back on the field. That’s the difference. If we were able to move the chains, I think our defense would still be playing well.”
Improvement on offense, naturally, will be the focus as the Bearcats prepare for Brewer.
The last time the Bearcats and Bears faced off was in the 2004 bi-district round, a game Sherman won 36-20 to launch a storybook run to that year’s Class 4A Division I state semifinals.
Brewer (0-1) last year competed in the same district as Haslet Eaton, the team the Bearcats faced in last year’s playoffs. Eaton has since moved on to 6A, but the Bears faced the Eagles in non-district fashion to open the season on Friday and suffered a 34-3 loss, spoiling the debut of new Brewer coach Todd Peterman.
Still, the Bears are picked by some to contend for the District 3-5A (Division I) title. Quarterback Carson Ingram returns for his senior season after passing for more than 1,600 yards as a junior.
“He’s small but kind of like Johnny Manziel,” Martinez said. “He moves and has great body control. He is very accurate throwing the ball.”
Brewer also has some talented receivers and often go five wide with an empty backfield, which will likely force the Bearcats to change their defensive personnel to get more pass coverage.
On the injury front, the Cats will be without junior left guard James Drenner for the foreseeable future after he suffered a knee injury late in the game during the team’s final scoring drive. Martinez said the team was still awaiting the results of an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.
This week’s game, and next week’s homecoming affair against Frisco Liberty, will kick off at 7:30 p.m. in order to give the home fans at Bearcat Stadium a break from the late-summer sun. The remainder of the schedule will be 7 p.m. starts.
“We face the west here in Sherman,” Martinez said. “Especially the first part of the year, August and September, I’d rather have it as late as possible. I’d like to have an 8 o’clock kickoff, just to make sure the sun goes down, but that seems like too late a kickoff.”