Ryan has clinched a playoff spot, and the District 5-5A title is within reach. All the Raiders need to do now is beat the two teams closest to them in the standings.
The first test comes Friday when Ryan (8-0, 4-0 district) visits Denison (7-1, 4-0) at Munson Stadium. The winner clinches at least a share of the district championship with one game to play. Ryan closes the year against Wichita Falls Rider, which entered the week at 3-1.
Ryan, No. 3 in The Associated Press' Class 5A poll, is looking for its third straight district title.
"We're anticipating a battle," Ryan coach Dave Henigan said of Denison. "It's not the end goal, but we want to win the district title. If we play well, it will put us in a position to win the title outright next week. The kids are excited to be in a game with this high of implications."
Ryan has won 28 straight regular-season games and has won its four district games by an average of 31 points. The Raiders entered the week averaging 433.5 yards per game and boast the No. 5 passing attack (271.3 yards) and No. 5 scoring offense (45 points per game) among Dallas-Fort Worth Class 5A teams.
Spencer Sanders, an Oklahoma State commit who has thrown and run for 36 touchdowns this year, is expected to make his 46th start against Denison and is one passing touchdown shy of 100 for his career. He's thrown just 19 interceptions in his career, three this season.
Meanwhile, Denison would love to step in the way of Ryan's perfect season. The Yellow Jackets are enjoying their first winning season since 2013 and first 7-1 start since 2009. That year, the Yellow Jackets finished 13-2 and lost in the Class 4A Division II semifinals.
This year's revival is due in large part to Austin Emery, who continues to give the Yellow Jackets a dual-threat option at quarterback. Last week, Emery threw for 153 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 87 yards on 10 carries in a 56-0 win at Braswell.
Emery has 21 touchdowns — 12 rushing — this year. Denison is averaging 301.5 rushing yards.
"The thing with them is that they do stuff on offense that's different from what you normally see," Henigan said. "They are very formation-oriented and play very fast. They do a lot of stuff, and at a pace that's faster than anyone we've faced except Lancaster. They will come at you with gun stuff, under center, the veer option, etc.
"We have to line up and stop the run, because they do like to run the ball. And that's a challenge."
Ryan senior Rondarius McGarr agreed.
"I've seen that type of offense before when I was in Mississippi," McGarr said. "It's nothing I haven't seen before, but we have to be ready for it. We're excited to go play against them."
After a slow start last week, Ryan settled down to beat Wichita Falls 41-13. Defensively, Ryan is allowing 148.1 rushing yards per game while giving up 18.1 points.
Henigan said Ryan will have to play even better to remain unscathed.
"This game will come down to turnovers, and the kicking game will also be big," Henigan said. "It's a tough place to play, and I imagine their whole town will be there. You can't just show up and beat people. You have to be mentally focused, especially against good teams like Denison."
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.
What You Need to Know
Ryan at Denison
7 p.m. Friday
What happened last year:
Ryan won 41-14
Steve Gamel — Ryan 45, Denison 14
Jimmy Isbell — Ryan 49, Denison 14
Brady Keane — Ryan 42, Denison 28
Clay Massey — Ryan 56, Denison 10