If there was any question about the player at the center of Denison’s offense entering this season, there was an equal question about the other skill players surrounding sophomore running back Jadarian Price.
He was the one who ran for nearly 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and recently was ranked as the top player in the state for the Class of 2022 and one of the top players in the country for his grade level. But there was going to be a new quarterback handing him the ball. And a new second option in the backfield. And a set of wide receivers without any catches under their belt.
But when Price missed almost all of the second half of the season-opener with an ankle injury, the Yellow Jackets showed they weren’t a one-man band.
“J.D. is a great competitor. Of course we want to have him out there,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “The fact that we didn’t have him and we were able to play like we did says a lot about the kids being able to deal with that in the moment and not have it hurt the team.”
Zaelin Wimbish overcame a shaky start to produce a combined 263 yards and two touchdowns. Asa Osbourn got the lion’s share of the carries and had more than 100 yards and a TD. Keleon Vaughn and Anders Been came up with long receptions.
All of it added up to another victory by Denison in the Battle of the Ax and showed how diverse the Jackets (1-0) can be going forward, starting with their final non-district contest against Burleson Centennial (1-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Dr. Rene and Eva Gerard Field at Munson Stadium.
“We have an outstanding offensive line. They don’t care who’s back there; they’re just ready to go,” Rogers said. “We push our backs hard and we’re prepared well with depth because it’s such an important position.”
Denison won its seventh consecutive Battle of the Ax match-up with a 29-13 victory over Sherman. It extended the Jackets’ longest winning streak in the series and matched their longest stretch of success — a run with five victories and two ties from 1942-48.
Price finished with 18 carries for 111 yards and a TD, all but one carry was in the first half, while Wimbish’s first start at quarterback was a 9-for-15 passing effort for 111 yards and 25 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns and Osbourn gained 116 yards and the capping touchdown late in the fourth quarter on 21 attempts.
“I think Zaelin just settled down and he did what he does best, which is lead and be tough,” Rogers said. “I loved everything about Zaelin’s effort.”
Price has been practicing but with the Jackets opening 7-5A (II) action next week against Lebanon Trail and defending district champ Frisco Reedy coming to town the following Friday, he is not guaranteed to play against Centennial.
“It’s going to be a game-time decision. I think he’s about 80 percent (Wednesday),” Rogers said. “He’ll dress out and we’ll see.”
Denison’s defense held the Bearcats to just one touchdown in the final three-and-half-quarters and just 63 yards on 28 carries. It was Sherman’s lowest point total in the Battle of the Ax since 2004.
Burleson Centennial opened its season with a 34-21 victory against Corsicana. Jaylon Jackson had 11 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns, Chris Mosley chipped in seven carries for 42 yards and a touchdown to go with four catches for 84 yards and Hank Meyer completed 6-of-13 passes for 102 yards and also ran for two touchdowns.
The score was tied at 13 in the third quarter before three straight touchdowns by the Spartans pushed their lead out to 34-14 with 8:20 remaining. Centennial forced five turnovers, three of them fumble recoveries, but did struggle to contain Corsicana’s passing attack as Solomon James was 17-of-29 passing for 399 yards and two touchdowns. Corsicana had just 51 yards rushing.
The first meeting between the two schools last year was a wild one — a 52-49 victory by Centennial on a disputed field goal with 32 seconds left. What should have been a missed kick and potentially led to overtime was ruled good in a contest that saw nearly 900 combined yards. Price had 175 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries, Kyrion Rosser added 16 rushes for 77 yards and two scores and Cade Gordy was 8-of-12 for 128 yards and a TD pass to Cayden Earnhart.
By the end of the season, the Spartans finished 11-2 with a 34-7 loss in the Class 5A Division II Region II semifinals against Frisco Reedy to match the program’s best season in school history. Centennial’s other loss was a 63-16 setback in district play against eventual state champion Aledo.
“They’re like a top 10 team according to some polls,” Rogers said. “Different quarterback; they like to throw with him more than the guy they had last year. Both of their slotbacks are back and are really fast.”