The Yellow Jackets knew the start to their season was going to have different meanings each week and the three Friday nights all carried levels of importance.
It was a schedule set to challenge Denison. After opening against its biggest rivals, the only other non-district contest was to follow. Then immediately district contests fill out the rest of the season against an almost entirely new set of opponents.
“I’ve never been in a nine-team district,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “An emphasis has been put on that since the summer. We had to be in playing shape last week. We’ve got to be locked in faster. We have to know what we do.”
And so while there was plenty of reason for celebration following the season-opener, there is little time to bask in that glory because there is little time remaining to gear up for what the Jackets hope is a third consecutive trip to the postseason — something they haven’t done since 2003-05.
“We know we have to focus on the next game. You can’t be looking back at the last one,” senior safety Alex Pierce said. “We’re not skipping any reps because we know what’s coming up.”
Rounding into a district contender comes to a quick end as Denison (1-0) travels to Burleson Centennial (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night. The eight games remaining will determine if the Jackets end up in the postseason and the showing last week against Sherman, as well as this match-up against the Spartans, are the only snaps they can use as preparation.
“It’s a rep deal,” Rogers said. “The expectations are on the position and our expectations on every position are very high.”
It was a good start in that process with Denison maintaining its hold on the Ax for the sixth straight season after a 41-16 victory over the Bearcats. The Jackets had a slim 14-10 lead at half-time before scoring three times in the third quarter — twice in a little over a minute — to break the game open.
“We weren’t very crisp early on,” Rogers said. “Part of that has to do with the emotion and Sherman was playing with a lot of emotion.”
Jadarian Price ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries while Cade Gordy threw TD passes to Pierce Barker and DeCurious Smith, who also added a score on the ground and blocked a punt deep in Sherman territory that Javonte Briscoe jumped on in the end zone for a touchdown.
“It’s just different because it’s Sherman. There’s not many games that are that big,” Barker said. “I was feeling pretty confident. I trust Cade and trust the backs and trust the o-line to do their jobs. We’re fixing the little things to prepare ourselves for Burleson Centennial.”
The victory extended Denison’s personal-best winning streak in the Battle of the Ax, which started a season for the first time since 1923. How the Jackets handled everything surrounded the rivalry right off the bat was a good sign. Now Rogers wants to see how his squad reacts in the wake of the win and knowing that district play is immediately around the corner.
“After we beat Sherman, I told them, ‘so now what?’” Rogers said. “We’ve beaten them before and then didn’t play well the next week.”
With eight starters back on defense, Denison had three interceptions — Smith, Briscoe and Zaelin Wimbish — in the near second-half shutout of Sherman, which notched its only points after the break in the final two minutes.
“We know what we’re doing and we rely on the line to do what they’re doing,” Pierce said. “The secondary was on lock. That was a good start to the season. Once we get that little push it snowballs and we get rolling.”
The Jackets rushed for nearly 300 yards as Price led the way but Gordy and Kyrion Rosser also picked up at least 50 apiece.
Burleson Centennial is a relatively new school, having opened in 2010 and fielded a varsity football program since 2012. The Spartans shared a district title two years ago and have made four straight playoff appearances, finishing with a 5-6 mark last season for a losing season for the first time since 2013.
Centennial also opened this year with a victory, and it was a dramatic one at that by holding off Corsicana, 28-26, with a strong rushing attack out of the flexbone.
“You want to control the ball and that’s what they do. They ran only 40-something plays,” Rogers said. “I don’t think they milk the clock. They do huddle.”
The Spartans stopped three two-point conversions to maintain their lead and rushed for 318 yards on 41 carries.
Kyle Burns ran 21 times for 127 yards and a touchdown and was also 6-of-6 passing for 143 yards, including a third-and-17 completion in the final two minutes to run out the clock. Jaylon Jackson added a pair of TD runs for the Spartans.
“I’ve always liked playing an option team because it makes you trust your teammates. Everybody has to do their jobs,” Rogers said. “We can’t let them get going.”