Friday’s Class 5A Division I state semifinal between Ryan and Mansfield Summit at AT&T Stadium in Arlington is a showcase of two teams from very different worlds with eyes on the same prize.
For Summit, just being here is a feat. The Jaguars (8-4) have never played in a state semifinal in their nearly 20-year varsity history but are on a miracle playoff run after finishing fourth in District 4-5A. They got here by knocking off Red Oak, 41-38, in the region final. Meanwhile, this will be Ryan’s 10th appearance in this round since 2000. The Raiders, who beat Highland Park 17-7 to get here, have broken through to the title game six times in their history, winning it all twice.
To be in line for a third championship, and their first since 2002, they’ll have to first end Summit’s Cinderella story.
And lately, that hasn’t been an easy task for anyone.
“One of the things you’ve got to do this time of year is be hot, and they are hot,” Ryan coach Dave Henigan said of Mansfield Summit. “They’ve won three straight close games, so they are believing they can win. They were down 10 points with six minutes to go in the state quarterfinals last week and found a way to come back and win.
“They are a dangerous team right now. They are very, very talented.”
On paper, Mansfield Summit should not beat Ryan, the No. 1 team in the state. But it can be argued that there wasn’t a single Texas high school football expert or fan who pictured the Jags beating Abilene Cooper, Amarillo Tascosa and previously undefeated Colleyville Heritage.
Those are three big reasons why Henigan and his staff didn’t wait beyond Sunday to start prepping for this opponent. And that preparation doesn’t just include film work. The coaching staff also hung rat traps from the ceiling in the locker room and have been preaching the message of “don’t take the cheese” as a reminder that this could be a trap game.
“If you take the cheese, that’s when your hand gets slapped,” Henigan said.
Oklahoma signee Billy Bowman Jr. agreed.
“We know this is their first time here, but one thing about playoffs, luck has to come with great teams,” Bowman said. “We feel like it’s a trap game. We can’t be thinking like there are two games left. We have to worry about this one.”
A few of the bigger playmakers for Summit include Auburn signee Hal Presley, who comes in with 1,045 yards and 15 touchdowns. In last week’s win over Red Oak, Presley caught five passes for 92 yards. Junior Keon Hobbs led Summit with 110 yards in that game. He and Jaydon Lott each have over 700 rushing yards this season.
Quarterback David Hopkins has 530 rushing yards to go with 1,678 passing yards. He has scored 25 total touchdowns.
“What I see is they are playing way better than they were earlier in the year. That’s the difference,” Henigan said. “It’s the state semifinals. Those guys are really good. It doesn’t matter how you got in, or how you got here. They are one of four teams left playing in the state, so we have a big challenge.”
Even with Ryan players and coaches giving Summit all the respect in the world, it is no secret what the Jags are up against. The Raiders are 83-5 since 2015 and are playing in their fifth consecutive state semifinal. They have all the ingredients to advance to their second straight state title game, including a near-impenetrable defense that held Longview and Highland Park to a combined 14 points offensively.
Through 13 games, the Raiders are giving up an average of 14.46 points.
Offensively, Ryan has the No. 1 offense in the area among 5A teams courtesy of quarterback Seth Henigan (3,351 yards, 41 touchdowns), Ja’Tavion Sanders (1,073 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns), Billy Bowman Jr. (1,010 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns) and a running game that has continued causing fits for defenses despite being without leading rusher Ke’Ori Hicks due to injury. Kalib Hicks has rushed for 683 yards and five touchdowns in his place.
“I think one of the biggest keys to winning this week is that while we loved winning that game against Highland Park, we have to bring these kids back down to earth and get back to work,” Coach Henigan said. “This is a good football team we are getting ready to play.”
And a trip to the state title game is on the line.