There’s no denying No. 1 Ryan’s defense has been nearly impenetrable this season.
The Raiders enter Saturday’s Class 5A Division I Region II semifinal with the No. 3 defense in the area with an average of 191.27 yards against. They are fifth against the pass (102.45) and in points (15.64), which is enough to make any offensive coordinator cringe. But where they’ve really been stingy is against the run. Ryan is only giving up just shy of 89 yards per game in that department. Simply put: Teams can’t run the football against the Ryan Raiders.
Well, Longview may have something to say about that. In a battle that pits perhaps the top rushing offense in the state against one of the top defenses, Ryan (11-0) and Longview (9-2) meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
It’s the first-ever meeting between the two tradition-rich programs, and a trip to the region final is on the line.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight. I’m telling you right now,” Ryan coach Dave Henigan said. “Our programs mirror each other in a lot of ways. Granted, our offensive styles are different. But we pride ourselves on defense, physicality and flying to the football. If we play well, we will have a chance to win. But they are really good. It will be a real challenge for us.
“They want to be physical, run downhill and control the clock. And it’s not just that they run the ball, it’s how they do it.”
Longview comes in averaging 278.45 rushing yards per game and employs a variety of looks to make even the best defenses in the state look silly. That includes Lancaster, who the Lobos just beat 56-20 in the area round. Statistically, the third-ranked Tigers came in with an even better rush defense than Ryan but had no answer for the duo of Kaden Meredith (107 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns) and Markevion Haynes (90 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown).
Through 11 games, Meredith now has 1,367 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. Haynes has 1,177 yards and 13 scores.
“They aren’t one dimensional, but running the ball is certainly what they want to do,” Henigan said. “They want to run the power, the dive option, and there will be multiple tight ends and fullbacks. It’s a bunch of stuff you just don’t see a lot. Our guys will be prepared, though. It’s still all about getting off blocks and being physical.”
The Raiders haven’t had problems doing that. Their front line of Ja’Tavion Sanders (Texas), Mason Davis, Michael Gee and Jay Sheppard was imposing enough before the addition of Keithian “Bear” Alexander mid-season. All five of those guys are fast and can plug up holes in a hurry. Linebackers DJ Arkansas (Rice) and Anthony Hill Jr. have managed to keep everyone in front of them so far this season.
The secondary is anchored by the likes of Oklahoma signee Billy Bowman Jr., Austin Jordan and rover Ty Marsh.
Offensively, the Raiders and Lobos couldn’t be more different. Ryan boasts the No. 1 offense in the area with 524.36 yards per game and is throwing the football for nearly 300 yards per game. Ryan is averaging 49.09 points per game.
Seth Henigan has thrown for an area-best 2,807 yards and 36 touchdowns to just five interceptions. His favorite targets, Sanders and Bowman, have combined for 25 touchdowns through the air. Sanders caught eight passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns in Ryan’s 52-21 win over College Station last week.
Ryan scored 52 straight points in that lopsided win.
“It will be a physical game on both sides of the ball,” Henigan said. “It’s one of those games that will come down to a few key plays here and there. If we play well, we have a chance to win.”