If there is one playoff win from last year that Ryan can look back on to see how easily things could have gone in a different direction, it's that third-round battle with Lubbock Monterey.
Ryan, now the No. 3 Class 5A team in the state, was favored to win that game and more than doubled up the Plainsmen in total yards (500-243). But the Raiders couldn't pull away on the scoreboard and found themselves nursing a three-point lead with less than six minutes to play.
With Monterey coming to town Saturday with a roster loaded with players who do everything well and believe a few more fortuitous bounces could net them a win, Ryan knows it must be ready.
Ryan (12-0) and Monterey (8-4) meet at 2 p.m. in a Class 5A Division I Region I semifinal at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex. It is Ryan's ninth game this season in its home stadium.
"This is without a doubt the best team we've played since Frisco Lone Star," Ryan coach Dave Henigan said of Monterey, which his team beat 38-21 last year. "We put a late scoring drive together last year, but one thing we are reminding our kids of a lot this week is that this was a tight ballgame.
"We will have our hands full. This is the third round."
Saturday's matchup involves teams that do everything well. Both are explosive in the passing game while boasting quality run games. Defensively, neither is giving up a ton of points.
Ryan entered the week ranked among the top seven among Dallas-Fort Worth 5A teams in total offense (462.2 yards), passing (258.3) and scoring (46.9 points). Quarterback Spencer Sanders is ranked fourth in passing (3,020 yards, 42 touchdowns) while the wide receiver trio of Gabriel Douglas (1,133, 21 touchdowns), Tauskie Dove (772, 11 touchdowns) and Jamarion Robertson (749, six touchdowns) are among the top 19 pass catchers.
Defensively, Ryan has given up 21 or more points just three times this year, and that was during the first four games. Despite losing the bulk of its defense to graduation, the Raiders are holding opponents to 279.8 yards per game.
Monterey is averaging 40.5 points and just shy of 435 yards per game. The Plainsmen have won five straight, including last week's 52-14 win over El Paso Andress.
Quarterback Brylon Lawson-Young has thrown for just more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns and has a similar dual-threat style to Sanders. Sanders, an Oklahoma State commit, has rushed for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Lawson-Young has 857 yards and 18 scores.
Plainsmen running back Damontrareis Lacy leads his team with 1,159 rushing yards and 11 scores.
All those combustible elements could make for an interesting rematch.
"It's a great game to be involved in and a great one to be playing at home," Sanders said. "We've made it here, but we still have to get better. There's always going to be a better opponent."
Unlike its first two playoff games, Ryan hopes to start faster this week on the scoreboard, as it comes in having scored a total of 14 first-quarter points in blowout wins over Fort Worth Brewer and Birdville. Against Monterey, the Raiders also must be more disciplined.
In last year's game, Ryan jumped out to a 10-0 lead and looked to have the game in the bag with arguably one of the top defenses in the state in its corner. Instead, a steady run game from Monterey and Ryan's 140 yards in penalties kept the game in the balance most of the night.
Ryan went on to score twice in the final 5:43. Monterey fumbled once in that stretch and turned the ball over on downs in the closing minutes.
"The quarterback didn't play against us last year, but he's a big lefty and a load to bring down," Henigan said. "They've got playmakers everywhere. They're going to do what they do, but our defense has played well the last several weeks, so we're hoping they are peaking at the right time."
Monterey coach Wayne Hutchinson said his team must do a better job tackling Ryan in space and finding a way to slow Sanders, who he said is a guy who can take over a game at any moment — especially a game that is hanging in the balance late in the fourth quarter.
"The thing that catches my eye is there are no weaknesses with Ryan," Hutchinson said. "They don't stay blocked for long, they're fast and they get a lot of kids to the ball. Offensively, they have the quarterback and those two receivers. They've got the full package.
"We have players who were associated with that game last year, so maybe the awe factor is gone. We're on a roll, though. If there's a time of the year you want to face Denton Ryan, it's now."
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.
What you need to knowWhat: Ryan vs. Lubbock Monterey
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: C.H. Collins Athletic Complex
Last meeting: Ryan won 38-21
Steve Gamel — Ryan 45, Monterey 17
Jimmy Isbell — Ryan 45, Monterey 14
Brady Keane — Ryan 42, Monterey 21
Clay Massey — Ryan 56, Monterey 17