By Sam Waller, Herald Democrat
DENTON — The Sherman Bearcats never really got into an offensive rhythm Friday, but it didn’t really matter.
Austin Bindel returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and Sherman used two more interception returns, a blocked punt and a fumble to set up short scoring drives — all in the first 15 minutes — as the Bearcats steamrolled to a 49-21 victory over Denton Braswell in District 5-5A action at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.
Nathaniel Omayebu rushed for 110 yards and three touchdowns, Blaise Bentsen ran for one score and passed for another, and Michael Wallace ran for a TD as Sherman converted the turnovers into scoring drives covering 11, 1, 3 and 23 yards to jump out to a 42-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The victory puts Sherman (4-3, 2-1) into a tie for third place with Wichita Falls Rider, though Rider owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s the first time the Bearcats have been above .500 in district since 2012.
Sherman finished with 278 total yards thanks to repeatedly having a short field, but had 219 yards on interception returns. The Bearcats’ average starting field position on 13 possessions was the Braswell 49. On the first five series — all touchdowns — it was the Braswell 23.
“That’s a good problem,” Sherman head coach J.D. Martinez said. “If I could have that every Friday night, I think every coach in America would take that problem.”
With the game in hand so early, Sherman was able to empty the bench in the second half. Tony Flores became the first quarterback other than Bentsen to take a snap this season, freshman Darian Titus had 10 carries and safety Aaron Pratt — just called up this week — recovered a fumble.
“I just wanted the kids to go out there and play fast,” Martinez said. “Don’t take anybody lightly. Don’t ready the headlines. Don’t do any of those things, just line up and play football. Whoever is in front of you, just line it up and whip the guy in front of you, go out there and beat him.
“I sure am glad the defense understood that because they came out and did a fantastic job. We had less than 30 plays in the first half. I know we didn’t have a lot of yards, but oh, well. Again, I love that problem.”
Sherman had just 45 plays while Braswell had 79 and finished with a season-high 449 yards, more than double its average. But that meant little for the Bengals (0-6, 0-2), who lost for the 16th consecutive time in their brief history.
Greyson Thompson was 26-of-43 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns, but lost four turnovers, all of which led to Sherman scores. Sully Martinez caught eight passes for 84 yards and a score while Jaeden Johnson had seven receptions for 77 yards in addition to returning a punt for Braswell’s first score. Ki’Andre Jackson added 74 yards rushing on 14 carries.
It wasn’t nearly enough, thanks to the turnovers.
Sherman opened the game with a nine-play, 79-yard drive for Omayebu’s first score on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter. Bentsen keyed the possession with a 10-yard pass to Blake Steele to convert on an early third-down and a 35-yard keeper to the Braswell 8-yard line.
Then defense and special teams took over for the Bearcats.
Defensive tackle T.K. Walton blocked Braswell’s second punt and Bentsen, who finished 7-of-9 passing for 69 yards, connected with Jaylyn Cleamons for an 11-yard touchdown on the next play.
Cleamons, who caught three passes for 39 yards, said the field position was the key to the game.
“We’ve got to give a lot of credit to the defense because they made it happen for us,” he said. “We just executed on offense and got the job done, cleaned up the mess that the defense created for us.”
Braswell responded with its best drive of the first half, moving 69 yards to the Sherman 6 before Bindel intercepted a pass in the end zone and took it all the way back.
“It feels great,” Bindel said. “I want to thank Ethan Bedgood for blowing that block up. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have scored. It was a good feeling.
“It was just a great week of preparation and the defense coming out here and executing. We knew what had to be done. At one point on the sideline, I had to tell (Omayebu) and everybody to stop scoring so fast so we could catch a breather.”
It would take a while before that happened. Cody Hunter returned an interception 42 yards to the Braswell 1, setting up Omayebu’s second score on the next play. On the second play of the second quarter, Gage Smith returned an interception 77 yards to the Braswell 3, setting up Wallace’s TD run on the next play.
Braswell’s next possession ended when Ty Rockins recovered Thompson’s fumble at the Braswell 23, which led to Bentsen’s 3-yard TD run two plays later.
With 14:17 gone in the game, Sherman led 42-0 and had scored five touchdowns in a span of five offensive plays.
Johnson got Braswell on the board with a 71-yard punt return with 4:56 left in the half.
Omayebu capped his night with a 3-yard TD run midway through the third quarter. Sherman took over at its own 17 after Braswell was stopped on downs, but Omayebu broke off a 54-yard run on the first play and scored four plays later.
Thompson had TD passes of 11 yards to Jordan Joyce late in the third quarter and 14 yards to Sully Martinez in the fourth quarter.