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Raiders expect toughest challenge yet against pass-happy Coronado

Ryan cornerback Jordan Rucker said this week that he couldn't wait to do some homework on Lubbock Coronado, the Raiders' opponent for Saturday's Class 5A Division I Region I final.

"I already looked," Rucker said Monday before practice. "It's a good offense. They throw a lot."

As good as Ryan is — the Raiders (13-0) are the No. 3 Class 5A team in the state and will play in their third straight region final at 2 p.m. Saturday on Abilene Christian's Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium — Coronado (13-0) became a conversation piece after scoring 80 points and racking up 765 total yards (451 passing) on Colleyville Heritage in last week's semifinal win.

The Mustangs are the first Lubbock school district team to advance to the fourth round since 1992, but their ability to throw the ball is far from an aberration. That makes them the most pass-happy opponent Ryan has faced in recent memory.

That has Rucker and the rest of the Raider secondary paying extra close attention.

"We are working extra hard and watching more film than ever," Rucker said. "[This game] is a chance to show what our secondary is all about."

Ryan and Coronado have similar offenses in terms of sheer talent and the numbers they've put up this season. Ryan is averaging 47.1 points per game while Coronado is averaging just more than 48. Both have incredible depth at wide receiver, veteran offensive lines and a steady run game.

Oklahoma State commit Spencer Sanders, who announced this week he will sign early with OSU on Dec. 20, has thrown and rushed for 4,324 yards and 58 touchdowns for Ryan. That includes five touchdown passes in last week's 49-28 win over Lubbock Monterey. 

Meanwhile, Coronado's Qua Gray has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 56 touchdowns. Last week, Gray threw for 451 yards and six touchdowns while connecting with four receivers. Blair Conwright caught four passes for 202 yards, while Devin Morrison added 142 receiving yards. Each scored three touchdowns in a game that saw the Mustangs outscore Heritage 56-33 in a second-half shootout. 

"To score 80 in the third round is pretty impressive," Ryan coach Dave Henigan said. "When you look at it, they're a lot like us. They are really good at wide receiver, just like us. And they have a really good quarterback, just like us. It's two evenly matched teams.

"You're not going to shut them down, but you have to make key stops at key times."

Ryan will counter with a secondary that is arguably the most veteran part of its defense. Rucker and Tamar Butts both played last year during Ryan's run to the state semifinals. They are joined by junior TJ Walker and sophomore Tra Smith. 

Kosi Eldridge, a senior, moved from the secondary to linebacker and has been playing lights-out all season. As part of a revamped defense that includes Rondarius McGarr and Delshun Neal, the Raiders will look to carry an equal load in trying to slow Coronado's offense. 

Defensively, Ryan has given up an average of 16.8 points.

"It's one of those deals where the secondary is relying on the defensive line to get [to the quarterback] and the defensive line is relying on the secondary to cover them just a little bit longer so they can get there," Ryan defensive coordinator Shane Tolleson said. "It's a marriage between the front end and the back end. That's been our approach.

"It's two really good 13-0 teams playing each other."

Rucker agreed.

"Big-time players make big-time plays," Rucker said. "We have to focus on getting our hands on the receivers and let our defensive line do their work. We're excited, and we're ready."

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.

What you need to know

What: Ryan vs. Lubbock Coronado
When: 2 p.m. Saturday 
Where: Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium in Abilene
Predictions: 
Steve Gamel -- Ryan 45, Coronado 35
Jimmy Isbell -- Ryan 49, Coronado 38
Brady Keane -- Ryan 56, Coronado 53 
Clay Massey -- Ryan 63, Coronado 56