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Jackets hoping to build on Ax victory

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison's Keleon Vaughn celebrates his interception return for a touchdown in the Yellow Jackets' victory over Sherman to open the season.

When you open the season the way the Yellow Jackets have recently, there is little to complain about.

Convincing wins over your rival are the best way to kick off the year. But Denison hasn’t been able to maintain that momentum when it comes to what comes after beating Sherman — no matter where the Battle of the Ax falls on the schedule.

The Jackets will be out to change that recent negative trend as Denison (1-0) makes its longest road trip of the season to Texas High (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Gerald Prim Stadium.

This the third straight season the Jackets have won the opening game against Sherman. The previous two years saw them lose the following week. In fact, during the current winning streak over the Bearcats, Denison has lost five of the next seven games, including the past four.

“Sometimes it’s lingered. I think it can go back to the maturity of the team,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “We’ve moved on. We gave them 24 hours to celebrate but it’s been back to work to try and beat Texas High.”

Call it a hangover. Call it the luck of the schedule. Whatever you call it, the Jackets are hoping to be called winners and 2-0 heading into their bye next week before starting District 7-5A (II) play on October 16.

“It’s a good challenge,” Rogers said. “It’s the farthest we’ll have to travel and there’s some things with that, especially in these times.”

This game was added to the Yellow Jackets’ schedule after the University Interscholastic League split the starting dates for the Class 1A-4A and 5A-6A programs and counties around the state were limiting high school athletics until certain dates as part of battling the spread of COVID-19.

Denison was originally scheduled to play at Fort Worth Brewer and Texas High was going to face rival Arkansas High.

Last week, the Jackets found themselves trailing against Sherman by a 14-0 margin late in the first quarter and 16-13 at the half — the first time in four years they didn’t lead the Battle of the Ax after two quarters.

“I think the kids figured it out,” Rogers said. “We went to some things we’ve had success with in the past.”

Denison leaned on its running game in the second half as Asa Osbourn and Jadarian Price each scored twice to go with a pair of first-half TDs from Keleon Vaughn (interception return) and Keegan Pruitt (catch from Caleb Heavner) on the way to a 41-23 victory.

Price finished with 188 yards on 14 carries, Osbourn added 16 carries for 98 yards and the Jackets ran on all but two plays in the final two quarters to finish with 292 yards on the ground.

Jakalen Fields led the defense with five of nine total sacks and Sherman managed just 37 carries for 78 yards to go with 195 yards passing. The Bearcat offense went scoreless from 3:22 in the first quarter until the final 34 seconds of the contest.

“We did several things right but there’s a bunch of things we need to improve,” Rogers said. “The kids understand that. We want to continue getting better every week.”

Texas High opened its season with a 41-21 victory against Tyler, also opting to begin with a Thursday night contest.

The Tigers had 390 yards with 280 of that rushing. Braylon Stewart had 17 carries for 179 yards and three touchdowns, Vontrey Anderson scored twice on the ground and Oscar Hernandez kicked a pair of field goals.

Texas High only led 13-7 at halftime before before scoring twice in the third quarter as the Tigers began to pull away. They also recovered a pair of fumbles on kickoffs.

The defense is led by senior outside linebacker Clayton Smith, who is committed to Oklahoma and according to Rivals is ranked as the 128th-best player in the country, the sixth-best OLB in the country and the 20th-best player in Texas.

Last season as a member of Sherman’s district — 7-5A (I) — Texas High, which dropped down to Division II this year, finished 7-5 with an area round playoff appearance. The Tigers were tied with the Bearcats and Tyler for third in the district standings and were the fourth seed for the postseason.

They then upset state-ranked Lufkin, 41-35, in double overtime in the bi-district round for their first playoff win since 2009 before losing to Frisco Independence.

“We know they’re going to be good. They’ve got a lot of kids back,” Rogers said. “They’re always athletic. They’re always well-coached.”

Non-district

What: Denison at Texas High

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Radio: KMKT 93.1