Anyone who saw the final score of Ryan’s playoff opener against Dallas Bryan Adams likely began taking all the warnings about how treacherous the playoff path is in Class 5A Division I Region II with a grain of salt. After all, the Raiders just finished rolling up nearly 700 yards of offense for a 69-6 win.
This is what the No. 1 team in the state should be able to do to everyone.
In past years, that may have been the case. Ryan (10-0) usually isn’t tested much until at least Round 4 or 5. But this season is different with a switch from Region I to Region II. Even the Raiders know last week was their last freebie.
“[Region II] is the toughest region in the state,” Ryan coach Dave Henigan said immediately following his team’s latest win on Friday. “There are some [Class] 6A brackets that aren’t as tough as this one.”
Henigan isn’t overstating things. Ryan — which faces College Station (10-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Waco ISD Stadium — is vying for its first state title since 2002 against a bracket that also includes the likes of Lancaster, Longview, Highland Park, Frisco Lone Star and Magnolia. Those teams, along with College Station, have combined for just seven losses heading into this weekend’s area round.
Four of them (Lancaster, Longview, Highland Park, and Magnolia) finished in the Top 10 in the final 5AI state poll.
“People like to say we win so much because we don’t play anyone,” said DJ Arkansas, senior linebacker and recent Rice signee. “Well, to keep winning this year, we’ll have to. It’s going to be tough, and we’ve been waiting for it.”
The wait is over with College Station up next. Henigan said he is surprised not many people are talking about the Cougars, whose lone loss this season was in Week 3 to Magnolia. They’ve since won eight in row, including last week’s 38-26 victory over Sherman that vaulted them into the second round for the sixth year in a row.
College Station’s fast-tempo offense is buoyed by the running back tandem of Roderick Brown and Marquis Collins. Brown rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns last week, giving him 1,335 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Collins eclipsed the century mark against Sherman to give him 1,014 yards and 20 scores.
Quarterback Jett Huff has thrown for 2,418 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“For whatever reason, people are only talking about a handful of teams. College Station should be one of those teams,” Henigan said. “In my opinion, they could very easily be undefeated. They are really big on the offensive and defensive lines, and they have great running backs. The quarterback is a coach’s kid, they play at an incredibly fast pace, and they just don’t make very many mistakes. I see a very good football team.
“The key for them is tempo. That’s the equalizer, for sure. That’s a challenge.”
Ryan hopes to counter College Station’s size with a brand of football few teams have been able to figure out in recent years. The Raiders enter Friday’s tilt with an 80-5 record (regular season and playoffs) since 2015 and are coming off a run to last year’s state title game, where they lost to Alvin Shadow Creek.
This year’s team has faced a much harder schedule, including beating two Class 6A teams in Arlington Martin and Guyer to start the year. Ryan currently features the No. 2 offense in the area with an average of 514.5 yards per game.
Memphis signee Seth Henigan has thrown for 2,502 yards and 32 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has a ton of weapons, including Texas signee Ja’Tavion Sanders (658 receiving yards, 11 TDs) and Oklahoma signee Billy Bowman (773 receiving yards, 10 TDs). Even with those two stars, Ryan has five receivers with at least 264 receiving yards.
Running back Ke’Ori Hicks (Texas A&M Commerce) leads the team with 750 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, Ryan is giving up an average of 15.1 points and is No. 3 in the area in yards allowed with 181.6. Sanders and Bowman lead the charge on that side of the ball along with the likes of Arkansas, Ty Marsh, Austin Jordan and Keithian “Bear” Alexander. Opponents are only averaging 86.6 rushing yards a game.
“This will be a great challenge for us,” coach Henigan said. “The region is clearly deep; there are a lot of really good teams. We aren’t going to overlook any of them. When you look too far ahead, you get knocked down.”