Cats need to keep 'D' sharp next few weeks

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Sherman's Jesse Matteson (23) and Brandon Bonilla combine to sack Wylie East's Terrell Washington Jr. in the 7-5A (I) opener last week. The Bearcats play at Highland Park this Friday.

Coming into the year there were a couple of questions about the Sherman defense.

Some of them were justified, based on the way the off-season and season had been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic and because the Bearcats were replacing eight starters.

B ut after a one-half hiccup in the season-opener, the unit has done its part and given Sherman a chance to come away with a victory every week since.

Over the next couple of games, the group will face its biggest tests, starting as Sherman (2-3, 1-0) travels to Highland Park (2-0) in District 7-5A (I) action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Following a bye week the Bearcats take on another state-ranked opponent in Longview.

Sherman has relied on its returning senior starters — linebackers Brandon Bonilla and Mathias Coleman and defensive back Jeff Banks — while implementing some upperclassmen ready to take on bigger roles — corner Braiden Speed and defensive tackle Armando Chavez — and younger pieces who have stepped right in and made plays — defensive backs Phoenix Grant and Connor Clark.

"They’re improving weekly. We’re tackling better,” Sherman head coach J.D. Martinez said. “Were going to give up yards. We don’t want to give up points."

After holding Denison's offense to 6 points in the first half, Sherman's struggled in the third quarter as the Jackets broke the game open and finished with 41 points.

Since then no opponent has scored more than 24 points — a more than respectable number as high-octane offenses reach the end zone at will.

During that stretch Sherman posted its first shutout in 22 games when it blanked Saginaw and has held multiple opponents in a season to single digits for the first time in a decade.

“They’ve done a really good job,” Martinez said. “Our defensive staff does a good job of getting them in position to make plays. When we dial up pressure, we get home and we’ve got to continue it.”

Sherman started district play with a 45-7 victory against Wylie East, pulling away after holding a 9-0 half-time advantage.

Benji Omayebu had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown while running five times for 76 yards and a score.

“He’s 100 percent now and it shows,” Martinez said about the senior’s thigh injury suffered in the season-opener. “I think he’s the most dynamic player in Texoma.”

Andrew Nehrbass had 12 carries for 159 yards and a TD and Caleb Thompson finished with nine carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense nearly came away with its second shutout in three games but Wylie East finally got on the scoreboard with just over four minutes remaining.

“It kinda played out the way I thought they would,” Martinez said. “They hadn’t been able to practice for a couple weeks (due to COVID-19). By the third quarter you could see that taking its toll.”

Highland Park has played only two games this season after the Scots had their first two match-ups cancelled because of positive COVID-19 tests within the program and they opened 7-5A (I) play with the district bye.

Before that, the team ranked second in this week’s Class 5A Division I statewide poll had a 42-36 win against Coppell before a 42-18 victory over Rockwall.

Both opponents had success moving the ball through the air, something that could play to Sherman’s receiving strength.

Highland Park’s defense is led by senior linebacker Patrick Turner, who is committed to Navy.

Senior quarterback Brayden Schager is committed to Hawaii. Against Coppell he completed 19-of-33 passes for 325 yards and two TDs and ran for two touchdowns and against Rockwall completed 22-of-31 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two scores.

Anthony Ghobriel led the Scots in rushing in the first game but Brooks Bond has 18 carries for 109 yards and a TD with a receiving touchdown in the last outing.

Crockett Corwin has back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.

And leading the way on the offensive line Jack Leyrer, a 6-7, 280-pound senior tackle who last month committed to Stanford.

Highland Park is one of the most decorated programs in the state. The Scots have won six state championships, including a three-year run from 2016-18, and reached the title game three other times. Last season Highland Park went 11-2 and lost in the region semis against state semifinalist Frisco Lone Star.

The program has won at least 10 games in all but two seasons since 1996 and is nearly unbeatable at home — Highland Park has lost just four games on its turf in the past 22 seasons, one of which was a 24-22 defeat against Denison in 1998.

“Highland Park is Highland Park. They are who they are — very successful over the years,” Martinez said. “Here’s what they do. Here’s what we need to do to attack it and stop it.”

District 7-5A (I)

What: Sherman at Highland Park

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Radio / Webcast: KMAD 102.5 FM / www.shsbearcats.net/broadcasts