A loss to an underdog taught Denison a valuable lesson early this season: You have to show up every night.
The Yellow Jackets (9-1) didn't do that against Big Spring on Sept. 4. Denison gave up a late score to lose 27-21, snapping a 12-game regular-season winning streak.
But that loss serves as a stark reminder for Denison of what can happen if it doesn't respect each opponent. The team responded by winning eight straight games, including a 43-28 drubbing of Sherman last week to capture a second-straight District 9-4A title.
"We're not going overwhelm everybody with our talent," Denison coach Cody White said. "Our kids have to play at a high level to be successful. They were guilty of listening to their own hype."
The hype began when Denison returned 14 starters from a team that went 12-1 in 2008, the one loss coming in the playoffs against eventual 4A state champion Sulphur Springs.
Senior running back D.J. Jones returned to provide more than 1,500 yards rushing, one of nine seniors that started as sophomores in White's first season as coach.
Denison opens the playoffs against Richardson Pearce (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco.
"They've been through the fire," White said of his senior class. "They understand what it's about. Last year, we went three rounds. They know about big games. They've done a good job performing in those."
Pearce's passing game presents a stiff challenge for Denison's defense. White hopes his defensive line, led by Kansas commit Jaqwaylin Arps, can pressure Pearce QB Caleb Lewis enough for the Yellow Jackets to get enough stops to take and hold a lead.
"They're going to get their points," White said. "We're not going to stop them. We have to get a couple of stops a half and be consistent offensively or we'll be down. And I don't know if you can catch somebody like that if you get way down."