Here it is, Week 11 of the high school football season, and the Sherman Bearcats are on the cusp of a return to the playoffs.
It’s something that head coach J.D. Martinez admits looked like a long shot back in August, with so many new players and a leg injury suffered by one of the Bearcats’ leading players.
“We’re so young, and as a coaching staff we discussed how young we were,” Martinez said. “We had eight sophomores we were looking at bringing up, and we didn’t know at the time how Jeff Banks’ leg was. He lost the whole season, unfortunately. Knowing that with Jeff and knowing where we were with our upperclassmen, I’d have been pleasantly surprised (to be in the playoff hunt).
“But I don’t put it past the kids because of their work ethic and how hard they work. I can’t be more happy with how well these coaches have coached and what they’ve done, and the kids, how whey’ve bought in. They just did their job. They pushed themselves, and sometimes the coaches had to push them, but it’s just a great job on their part to put themselves in this position and put themselves in every game in the fourth quarter. The first game wasn’t good … but we figured it out, and that’s what pre-district is for. We figured it out in time for district.”
The Bearcats (4-5, 3-2) need just one of three things to happen in order to qualify for postseason play: a win Friday night at District 7-5A (I) champion Tyler John Tyler; a McKinney North loss to Mesquite Poteet; or a West Mesquite loss to Texarkana Texas High.
A Poteet victory tonight at McKinney ISD Stadium would render Friday’s game meaningless for seeding purposes, because it would lock the Bearcats into the No. 3 seed. That would mean a bi-district road trip to College Station to take on the defending Class 5A Division II state champions, who are ranked No. 10 in 5A by the Associated Press.
“The kids know what’s going on,” Martinez said. “Heck, a lot of them are going Thursday night to go watch Poteet and McKinney North in that beautiful stadium. The implications that that game holds are huge.”
No matter what happens tonight in McKinney, the Bearcats still have to load up the buses and go play a game, and Martinez is looking forward to playing at historic Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium for the first time in his coaching career.
“One of my big influences in my life, (former North Texas head coach) Corky Nelson, coached there,” Martinez said. “Being able to coach in that stadium, I’m really going to enjoy it.”
The last time the Bearcats faced JT was on Dec. 2, 2011 in the Class 4A Division I state quarterfinals at SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Field, where the Bearcats battled to a 21-21 halftime tie against Greg Ward Jr. and the Lions. But the Cats couldn’t keep Ward in check forever, and JT went on to eliminate the Bearcats, 45-21.
With the district’s top two defenses squaring off, Martinez thinks it’ll be a relatively low-scoring game. Like West Mesquite, JT has a huge offensive line, and much like Poteet and West Mesquite, have skill position players all over the field.
“Our kids are playing great,” he said. “They’re coachable and they play so hard. (John Tyler) has a lot of talent and a lot of speed, and all it takes is one mess-up and they’re gone. We’ll have to be on our game and play good, sound football.”
On the injury front, senior Landon Cole’s season is likely over after a broken rib and concussion suffered in last week’s game. Junior 1,000-yard running back Mike Brown added another injury to his chart with a slight hand fracture on Sherman’s second-to-last offensive play against West Mesquite, but Martinez said Brown has been fitted with a padded cast and will play.
“Mike will be fine,” Martinez said. “One thing that might hurt him is being able to catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Without Cole at wide receiver, junior Gage Smith will be called on to play both sides of the ball as well as return kicks and punts. Smith may hardly ever leave the field Friday night, but Martinez said Smith is up to the challenge.
“That’s the way Gage wants it,” Martinez said. “Gage doesn’t ever want to come off the field. He’s got himself in pretty good shape to where he can play. If we need to spell him on offense, we’ll spell him and let him catch his breath. That kid loves football. He’s not just an athlete that plays football; he’s a football player.”
Senior Damian McKee will once again be asked to carry more of the load out of the backfield.
“Damian is consistent, and when he sees it, he goes,” Martinez said. “He’s bigger than Mike, so when he hits the hole, he’s a bit more to bring down and he can wear on defenses. That’s what we’ve got to try to do, just keep him moving forward and our offensive line moving forward.”