Perhaps one of the biggest shockers on Ryan’s regular-season schedule was its Week 1 matchup with Longview, another state-ranked program. Many people thought it’d be a carbon copy of last year’s gritty playoff matchup. Instead, the Raiders rolled with ease to a 40-7 win, rarely being challenged by the suddenly mistake-prone Lobos.

Ryan players and coaches insist they won’t see that same Longview team on Friday when the two tradition-rich programs battle for the third time in 17 games in a Class 5A Division I Region II semifinal at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.

“The first game is irrelevant,” Ryan coach Dave Henigan said. “They’ve got a bunch of young kids playing in their first varsity game at The Star in front of a bunch of people, and we’ve got 12 or 13 starters back from a state championship team. All of a sudden, the momentum goes against them. We block a punt and get an interception for a touchdown. They fumble a snap. Our kids get credit for that, but their mistakes made it a wider margin than those two teams are.

“We’re not fools. We are expecting a dogfight [Friday] because it’s Longview. We know what we’re up against.”

Senior defensive back and Texas commit Austin Jordan agreed.

“It’s a different team,” Jordan said. “We have to watch film, see what they’ve changed, and go out and compete.”

The biggest difference for Longview has been its change at quarterback. Joshua Thomas adds another dynamic to the traditional run-oriented Lobos attack with his strong arm, accuracy and ability to pull the ball down and run when necessary. In last week’s 34-14 win over Lancaster, Thomas threw for 122 yards and a touchdown and added 144 more yards on the ground with three more scores.

His performance helped break open what was a three-point game going into the fourth quarter.

But Longview’s resurgence isn’t just about Thomas. Since a 56-28 win over West Mesquite on Sept. 23, Longview has posted two shutouts and has allowed more than 21 points only three times in that stretch. Defensively, the Lobos forced three turnovers last week and have won their past three games by an average margin of 30 points.

No one except Ryan has scored more than 37 points against them.

“It’s a tremendous challenge to play them, and I’m sure they’d say the same about us,” Henigan said. “You have two similar programs — physical, tough, great tradition, speed, play defense, run the ball on offense, etc. We’re very similar in a lot of ways. Their quarterback changes them a lot, and he’s fast, too. This kid seems to throw the ball well and runs well. He brings a whole new element to their offense that we have to prepare for.”

With Longview having figured things out on both sides of the ball, that puts more pressure on Ryan. Defensively, the Raiders are only giving up just shy of 99 rushing yards per game and will be focused on eliminating the big plays that Longview is traditionally known for.

Offensively, the Raiders also recognize that they need to score more points if they want to take pressure off their defense and keep playing into December. The Raiders exploded for 21 points in the first half last week against Magnolia West but scored only seven points the rest of the way en route to a 28-20 win. They’ll again lean on Kalib Hicks, who rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown last week. On the season, he has 1,281 yards and 17 touchdowns.

But Henigan agreed they need to be more consistent across the board offensively.

“You want to keep scoring. We had one bad drive in the first half. That’s it,” Henigan said. “Just a variety of things happened [in the second half]. We didn’t block something right on a third-down-and-4 play. We had a third-down-and-7 and dropped a pass. We just have to be striving for consistency. We’re really close to being really good offensively, and our defense hung in there. So when it had to happen last week, we got a championship drive.

“I see us improving every week. That’s exciting because we’re winning and have plenty of opportunities to improve.”

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 469-360-3611 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.

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