In every realignment year, most coaches don’t actively seek out a defending state champion to fill a spot in their schedule.
But Chad Rogers has no problem using the best as a measuring stick for his Yellow Jackets. And he was rewarded for the willingness to add a tough opponent when Denison’s match-up against Argyle was selected to be part of a weekend extravaganza at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“We were going to play anyway. It kinda happened all at once,” Rogers said. “At the time Kevin Ozee, the Southlake Carroll AD was putting this together. It all fell into place for us to be a part of it.”
With a chance to take the field on the most coveted ground any high school player would want to run, pass or tackle upon, Denison (1-0) faces Argyle (1-0) in a non-district contest at AT&T Stadium in Arlington at 2 p.m. on Friday.
“If you play in the playoffs and play long enough, you’re going to play here,” said Rogers, referring to the high-profile postseason contests that end up at AT&T Stadium, culminating with the state championship games. “It’s the first time I haven’t had to check the weather on a Friday night.”
The contest is one of seven games in the Southwest Showcase. The Jackets and Eagles kick off the event and are followed by Dallas Skyline and Arlington Martin at 5:30 p.m. and Southlake Carroll and Tulsa Union at 8 p.m. On Saturday Byron Nelson and San Angelo Central kick off at 11 a.m., followed by L.D. Bell-Rockwall (2 p.m.), Euless Trinity-Rockwall Heath (5 p.m.) and then Justin Northwest plays one of Denison’s 10-5A opponents, Prosper, at 8 p.m. to close things out.
Denison-Argyle tickets ($6 for students; $8 for adults at DHS athletic office or $10 at gate) are good for all of the Friday games. The Jackets have been placed on the north side of the stadium and fans should enter Gate A and use lots 1, 2, 3 and 10. Parking is $10.
This will be the first opportunity for Denison to play at the latest incarnation of the Cowboys’ turf. The Jackets played at Texas Stadium in that facility’s final year, 2008, losing in the region quarterfinals to eventual champion Sulphur Springs to finish 12-1.
And it is an opportunity that was well received by the players when Rogers told them about it in February.
“It’s all about their focus. We’ve got a game plan,” Rogers said. “We’re going to leave as early as possible to get rid of all the distractions, give them a chance to see it.”
The Jackets are coming off a 20-17 overtime victory against Frisco Liberty that saw Denison trailing in the fourth quarter before rallying to force OT and then edge the Redhawks. Hunter Emery’s 34-yard field goal put the home team ahead after the first possession of overtime and Quashawn Carrell’s recovery of fumble caused by Devin Mitchell near the goal line sealed the win.
“Our offense has always started off slow,” Rogers said. “I think you try to find an identity of your team and what they do well. I think what we can build off is our kids came through under pressure.”
Hunter Watson and Tre Lyday scored their first varsity touchdowns, Emery added another field goal and the defense forced three turnovers to aid the cause in the first game at the new-look Munson Stadium.
“We had our opportunities early on in the game to take advantage and we didn’t,” Rogers said about the seven trips into Liberty territory that came away empty.
Argyle was able to make it through 2013 with a 16-0 record, edging Fairfield, 38-33, in the 3A Division II title game. It was the first championship for the Eagles, who were the runner-up in 2011 and 2005.
The Eagles return just eight starters from last season’s title team but the program has been among the most successful in the classification the past few seasons.
“We know they have a quality program,” Rogers said.
Argyle, which is ranked fourth in Class 4A in the Associated Press statewide rankings, opened the season with a 34-28 victory against Abilene Wylie, which is getting votes in the 4A poll. The Eagles forced five turnovers, returning two fumbles for touchdowns, to hang on for the victory after recovering an onside kick in the final minute following a 34-14 lead after three quarters.
Nick Ralston, who has committed to Arizona State, finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
“He’s a big kid. He’s got really good speed,” Rogers said. “They’re going to give it to him. They’re going to ask him to carry them. We have to get everyone to the ball.”
Hunter Markwardt caught a 68-yard TD pass from Cooper Rodgers while Jacob Forrer and Hudson Speed had the defensive scores.
Argyle managed to win the game thanks to the turnover margin because Abilene Wylie outgained the Eagles 428 yards to 183, Rodgers finished just 4-of-15 passing with two interceptions, the running game averaged 3.3 yards per carry and the Eagles were flagged 11 times for 98 yards.
“It was weird stuff. Any time you have a team that’s really, really successful, they’re going to have confidence,” Rogers said. “We have to do what we can control.”