Monster match-ups: A guide to Texoma’s best games in 2020

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
From left to right: Some of the biggest games of the 2020 season involve Denison, Pottsboro, Bells and Sherman.

Maybe you don’t have a favorite team to follow on a weekly basis. You don’t live and die with the Sherman Bearcats or the Denison Yellow Jackets. You didn’t graduate from S&S or Howe. You have no attachment to the Gunter Tigers or Pottsboro Cardinals.

Maybe you just love football and want to see the best the area has to offer. Friday nights don’t get much bigger in these parts — or any parts in the state for that matter — and there’s always a handful of intriguing match-ups worth the price of admission.

So with that in mind and football right around the corner, hopefully in its full form, here is a road map to the ultimate Texoma schedule for the 2020 season:

Friday, August 28

Week 1

Sherman at Denison

It has now become a staple of the opening week of the season since the long-time rivals are now in different Class 5A divisions. This will be the 122nd meeting between the Bearcats and Yellow Jackets and as the site shifts to Munson Stadium, Denison will be looking to extend its school-record winning streak in the Battle of the Ax to eight while Sherman will try to get its first victory against its neighbor to the north since 2012. Two high-powered offenses could put on quite a show.

Also of interest: Life Oak Cliff at Van Alstyne; Bells at Whitesboro; Tom Bean at S&S.

There’s a playoff rematch from last year’s bi-district round, which was a VA victory, and a pair of all-Grayson County contests for teams looking to set early tones: the Panthers and Bearcats aren’t easing into the season with their game while the Tomcats and Rams seek some quick success to build on.

Friday, September 4

Week 2

Gunter at Pottsboro

Last season this game was a preview of big things to come — it involved the Class 3A Division II state champion and the Class 3A Division I state runner-up as the Tigers won their second crown in four seasons and the Cardinals had the best season in school history. The teams combined to go 30-2 and have big expectations again — Gunter starts as the No. 1 team in the 3A D-II state rankings while Pottsboro starts No. 3 in the 3A D-I poll.

Also of interest: Denison at Fort Worth Brewer; Howe at Bells; Honey Grove at Whitewright.

The Jackets go on the road looking for a win after the Battle of the Ax, something they haven’t been able to do in the past four tries; the Bulldogs will attempt to give an early glimpse of improvement over 2019 against a Panther team hoping to go 2-0 and the Tigers try to take down Honey Grove after the Warriors held the upper hand the last two seasons.

Friday, September 11

Week 3

Pottsboro at Melissa

The one guarantee from this game is that a flock of Cardinals will go home happy. Pottsboro follows up what could be its toughest game of the season with another challenging opponent against a Melissa program which has been a consistent winner even with its rise in classification and division — they now reside in Class 4A Division I. Pottsboro is punching above its weight class and it should be a fight to see.

Also of interest: Saginaw at Sherman; Van Alstyne at Anna; Whitesboro at Gunter.

This will be the second straight home game after the Bearcats open on the road for the Battle of the Ax and hope to be building some momentum with the final non-district game to follow; the Panthers will try to snap a four-game losing streak against Anna and this week’s lone all-local match-up is one that has taken place every year since 2014 with Gunter winning each meeting — including 49-7 last year as the Tigers rebounded from their lone loss against Pottsboro.

Friday, September 18

Week 4

S&S at Collinsville

In this week’s only all-area match-up, the Rams are finishing up their non-district schedule hoping that a win might give them a winning record going into 8-3A (II) play. If that is the case, it means S&S would have already tripled its win total from 2019 with half a season to go. Collinsville will still be a couple of weeks from its district opener but this is the end of a three-game homestand. Protecting their turf could have the Pirates in a good spot.

Also of interest: Lovejoy at Denison; Pilot Point at Gunter; Bells at Holliday.

This is the district opener for the Yellow Jackets, who had the bye for the first week of 7-5A (II) play, and it comes against an opponent it has never beaten in six meetings but lost in overtime on the road last season; the Tigers and Bearcats square off in a match-up of two of the best teams in their respective regions and the Panthers close out a tough non-district slate with a road game in what could be a potential playoff preview.

Friday, September 25

Week 5

Ponder at Whitesboro

The Bearcats have a pretty salty non-district slate but those three games will help them prepare for the rigors of the 4-4A (I) schedule on the horizon — Boyd, Brock and Pilot Point in consecutive games after this opener against the Lions. Ponder had just two winning seasons in its first decade of play, the last coming in 2016, and five head coaches. Whitesboro has won the last pair of district meetings by at least 20 points.

Also of interest: Wylie East at Sherman; Howe at Pottsboro; Gunter at Whitewright.

For teams in seven- or eight-team districts, this is the first week for the games that really count. The Bearcats need a good start because of what is looming in 7-5A (I); the Bulldogs and Cardinals get their meeting out of the way early before focusing on the rest of the eastern-based 5-3A (I) and Whitewright has a measuring-stick match-up against the defending champs to kick off 8-3A (II) action.

Friday, October 2

Week 6

Bells at Gunter

There is a very good chance this game decides the District 8-3A (II) title. The Tigers and Panthers are projected to finish 1-2 in the standings with Leonard perhaps a darkhorse in the race. But the odds say that two of the three area teams coming off the best 2019 seasons will battle it out for the top seed and the winner of the match-up will then shoot for going undefeated. Bells has never won back-to-back district titles while Gunter is trying to win a school-record fifth straight district crown and extend a district winning streak that sits at 28 games dating back to 2015. The Tigers have lost just once in their past 35 district match-ups.

Also of interest: Sherman at Highland Park; Frisco Memorial at Denison; Whitesboro at Boyd.

The Bearcats go on the road to a place where the visiting team almost never wins — Highland Park has lost just three home games in 21 seasons (including a 24-22 defeat against Denison in 1998) — and then have to face district favorite Longview the following week; Denison hosts a team that put a scare in the Jackets (28-21) last season despite a second straight 1-9 season in its second year of existence and Whitesboro goes on the road in a game which could be the tie-breaker for a better playoff seed and the difference between opening the postseason against a district champ or not.

Friday, October 9

Week 7

Tioga at Trenton

This has a chance to be a key match-up — perhaps the deciding one — when it comes to the final playoff spot in 5-2A (I). Both programs were in the postseason last fall but the district added an extra team, going from five to six schools, meaning it will take at least two wins to lock down a playoff spot. And the competition for a berth should be tough as all six teams qualified for the playoffs in 2019. Two will get left out this time and the winner here will be in a good spot heading into the final month.

Also of interest: Van Alstyne at Krum; Commerce at Pottsboro; Gunter at Leonard.

This is the district opener for the Panthers, who could all but lock up a playoff spot with a win since they are in a five-team district; the Cardinals will head into the tougher part of the schedule hosting the Tigers and the other big showdown in 8-3A (II) for Gunter will come on the road and should provide an early indication of the top three seeds since both will have already played Bells by this point.

Friday, October 16

Week 8

Frisco at Denison

These two teams enter the season ranked in the top 25 in the Class 5A Division II rankings and are viewed as the top schools in the district. After the Jackets opened 7-5A (II) play against Lovejoy, this is the next biggest district game. And these two have provided some great games over the past four years — including Denison’s 10-7 win on the road last season. The winner could be in the driver’s seat for the top seed and the district title, especially because Frisco plays Lovejoy the next week.

Also of interest: Whitewright at S&S; Whitesboro at Pilot Point; Trenton at Tom Bean.

The all-area match-up between the Tigers and Rams could shape up to be an elimination game for the loser; Whitesboro goes on the road in the middle of its tough stretch for a game that should determine some sort of seeding and the Tomcats face Trenton in a similar situation to Tioga from the prior Friday — the loser may need some help in the final three weeks to get into the postseason.

Friday, October 23

Week 9

Celina at Van Alstyne

The Panthers enter this match-up off their bye week after opening 4-4A (II) play against Krum. Depending on Celina’s outcome against Aubrey in the Bobcats’ district opener, this could be a battle for sole possession of first place. And if Celina comes in with loss and Van Alstyne comes away with the win, that could set the Panthers up in a showdown with Aubrey for the district title on the final Friday of the season.

Also of interest: Denison at Frisco Lebanon Trail (Thursday); S&S at Bells; Tioga at Collinsville.

The Jackets have a quick turnaround from their big game against Frisco which could be a factor — win or lose; the two Grayson County clashes this week could have playoff implications — Bells could lock in its spot depending on how things have gone against Gunter and Leonard while Tioga and Collinsville will try to get a leg up on each other with a win, especially because they each have Tom Bean lurking in the final two weeks.

Friday, October 30

Week 10

John Tyler at Sherman

A year ago these two were tied in the district standings and Sherman had won their match-up. But Texas High was the third member of a three-way tie for third place and the Bearcats ended up being the odd team out despite winning their final three games, including over John Tyler in the season finale. At this point in the 2020 schedule, the stakes may well be the same with a playoff berth determined by the outcome — especially since John Tyler ends with Longview.

Also of interest: Pottsboro at Mount Vernon; Bells at Whitewright; Tioga at Tom Bean.

The back half of the Cardinals’ schedule will have them fending off challenges for the top spot in the district and this is another one; the Panthers and Tigers could be in a battle for playoff seeding with their contest and the Bulldogs and Tomcats might just be squaring off in a game where the loser is eliminated from the playoff chase, and the winner clinching a spot, heading into the final week of the season.

Friday, November 6

Week 11

Whitewright at Leonard

In the final week of the season, there will plenty at stake for several teams. In District 8-3A (II), Whitewright and Leonard — both in the postseason in 2019 — meet for a game which could end up deciding a playoff spot, seeding or both. These two have played each other every year dating back to 2008 and missed only two seasons since 2002 as part of 65 meetings. They have split the past two match-ups with both decided by seven points or less.

Also of interest: Sherman at West Mesquite; Winnsboro at Pottsboro; Tom Bean at Collinsville.

When it comes to playoff spots, the Bearcats and Wranglers might be entering an elimination game themselves; the Cardinals host a contest which has a chance to determine the District 5-3A (I) championship and the race in 5-2A (I) ends with a game that could affect the playoff berths not only for the Tomcats and Pirates but as many as two other teams in the district.