ARLINGTON — Five years later than they thought, the Ryan Raiders finally got that win over Highland Park.
And in a season where Ryan has long been the heavy favorite to win the Class 5A Division I state title, there’s no denying this was an important “W” they didn’t mind picking up along the way.
They did it in their typical dominant fashion, too.
Oklahoma signee Billy Bowman Jr. racked up 136 receiving yards and a touchdown, Texas signee Ja’Tavion Sanders added another highlight-reel one-handed grab, and the Ryan defense suffocated the usually high-powered Scots for a 17-7 win Friday in the Class 5A Division I Region II final at Globe Life Park.
This was Ryan’s first win over Highland Park after losing three state semifinals between 2016 and 2018.
“Any win this time of year feels great, but it’s like I told the kids, ‘This team has never played Highland Park.’ The team we have right now has never played Highland Park, and they’ve never played us,” Ryan coach Dave Henigan said. “Now, our coaching staff has, so really, it’s a monkey off our backs as much as anything.
“Maybe that space that’s [apparently] leased in my head isn’t leased anymore now.”
With the win, Ryan (13-0) has knocked off Longview and Highland Park in consecutive weeks and advances to its fifth consecutive state semifinal. The Raiders will face Mansfield Summit at 7 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium.
“It’s win or go home now,” Bowman said. “This one feels great, but we are focused on the next opponent now.”
Ryan kept its lofty postseason hopes alive thanks to a near-impenetrable defense and an offense that did just enough in the first half and down the stretch to keep the Scots at bay.
Defensively, Highland Park was held to 229 total yards. Brayden Schager was under pressure all day, making it incredibly difficult to find any timing downfield with his receivers. With the threat for the big play taken away, the Scots found themselves going three-and-out most of the night.
Schager finished having completed just 13 of his 33 passes for 165 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
Highland Park (11-1) was held scoreless over the final three quarters. After driving to the Ryan 23-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, the Scots were stopped short on a fourth-down-and-one play with 7:44 left.
Ryan proceeded to cobble together an offensive drive that squeezed nearly five minutes off the clock.
“It feels really good to get revenge from my sophomore loss [in 2018],” quarterback Seth Henigan said. “But a lot of our guys weren’t there, so it was a new game; it was nothing like the past. We are a new team, and we got it done.”
Sophomore linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. agreed.
“We had to do it for the people who lost,” Hill said. “We had to do it.”
Despite throwing two interceptions, Seth Henigan was incredibly efficient all night while engineering an offense that piled up 403 total yards and built a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Henigan completed 17 of his 28 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. After his defense forced Highland Park to punt on the game’s opening drive, Henigan drove his team down the field in seven plays and capped the drive with a pretty 8-yard touchdown pass to Sanders, who hauled it in with one hand for the 7-0 lead.
With 2:10 left in the same frame, Henigan, who has signed with Memphis, found a wide-open Bowman for a 61-yard touchdown to put his team ahead 14-0.
“He’s got poise,” coach Henigan said of his son. “He’s a coach’s kid. He’s smart. And he’s a winner.”
Even with the early lead, the Raiders struggled to blow the game open. Highland Park trimmed the deficit to one score when Schager found Crockett Corwin for a 29-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first frame.
Ryan added a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the half, then relied on its defense the rest of the way.
The defense didn’t disappoint — especially against a team that seemed to always have Ryan’s number.
“I’m just proud of how our kids played,” coach Henigan said. “Our coaches had a great plan, and defensively, obviously, we played unbelievable. Offensively, we started fast, which was one of the keys — start fast and finish the half. We did both of those things. We got just enough first downs, and then defensively — what a great job by those guys. We knew it was going to be that kind of game tonight.”