There is little reason to believe the Bearcats can’t bounce back from their season-opening loss against their rival. Sherman has done it the past two seasons and eventually made it to the playoffs.
The list of goals will always include winning in the Battle of the Ax. It does not mean, however, that is the only goal on the list for the season.
“We’ve still got something to play for,” Sherman head coach J.D. Martinez said. “Still gotta make the playoffs. Still gotta win that bi-district championship. The kids have a great attitude and came in ready to work.”
And there were several positives for the Bearcats to take away from their first game, regardless of the opponent or the outcome. Building on those areas, as well as improving on the big two negatives from the contest, are what Martinez would like to see as Sherman (0-1) travels to Fort Worth Brewer (0-1) in non-district action at 7 p.m. on Friday night.
The margin was a lot closer in this year’s Battle of the Ax match-up, a 29-13 Sherman loss which was its seventh straight loss to the Yellow Jackets. But unlike the previous two meetings, this one saw the Bearcats with the ball early in the fourth quarter and a chance to take the lead.
It was a position they would gladly take after being well behind at that point in both 2018 and 2017. Putting together one more drive and then putting the pressure back on the Jackets was well within reach.
But down 19-13, Sherman couldn’t come close to reaching the end zone again and Denison tacked on a field goal and then a TD in the closing minute to secure the victory.
“It goes to our offense being inconsistent,” Martinez said. “We didn’t have anything to hang out hat on. They were able to pin their ears back. Opportunities were there; we didn’t connect on them.”
Tate Bethel got the start at quarterback and acclimated himself well by completing 16-of-28 passes for 209 yards and a score and showed an ability to make plays when forced to scramble. The throws were almost evenly split as Jacoby Hunt (76 yards and a touchdown), Benji Omayebu (45 yards) and Sean Husband (31) all finished with four receptions and Gage Smith caught three passes for 38 yards.
“There’s some things Tate did really well,” Martinez said. “He protected the ball well. The past two years turnovers killed us in that game.”
And the defense came up with two turnovers — a fumble recovery by Ivan Calvillo that allowed Sherman to take a 7-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter and an interception by Aaron Ingram in Denison territory in the fourth — to go with a pair of second-half goal-line stands that netted just three points by the Jackets.
“We’ve been filling in with some younger guys but they’re doing a great job,” Martinez said. “Our kids rallied to the ball.”
The biggest issues from the opener were penalties — Sherman was flagged 11 times, many of them unforced — while the running game was never able to get going and provide some balance. The Bearcats ran 28 times for 63 yards with Mike Brown totaling 44 yards and a touchdown on 16 rushes.
“He’s got to be able to get past the first level. If he gets past the first level he can make the second and third level miss,” Martinez said. “We’re addressing (the penalties) right now in practice. We may make a change on the offensive line in terms of personnel. We have to bounce back in anything and everything we do.”
Brewer, which brought back just seven combined starters, opened its season with a 45-26 loss against V.R. Eaton last week. C.J. Houston had seven carries and came up with a pair of touchdowns while Jorge Estrada kicked two field goals. The Bears finished with just 94 yards on 35 carries.
The Bears allowed 429 yards to the Eagles as Amari Blount threw for 200 yards and three TD passes and also ran for a score and Jahbez Hawkins and Hayden Talley both ran for more than 100 yards.
Eaton had a 28-10 half-time lead and then scored on its first possession of the third quarter to widen the gap.
Brewer went 6-5 last season, earning the fourth seed for the playoffs out of District 3-5A (I) on a tie-breaker against Fort Worth Arlington Heights. The Bears lost in the bi-district round, 65-24, against state semifinalist Denton Ryan.
“They have some sophomores that are very good. They’re athletic and they fly to the ball,” Martinez said. “I’m worried more about our penalties and not running the ball.”