It’s been 11 years since Ryan and Corsicana last met on the football field, and 12 years since the game that marked a turning point in Ryan’s program.
Today’s 7:30 p.m. game between the two schools at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex will be the season opener for both schools.
The series was restarted out of necessity. Ryan head coach Joey Florence said Corsicana, like Ryan, struggled to schedule nondistrict games this season and they opted to play each other.
When put into context, the game becomes more than just the first of the season — it brings back memories of a great game, one that kicked off just hours after the death of Florence’s father 12 years ago.
“I can’t go anywhere without meeting somebody from Corsicana and they’re constantly reminding me that we didn’t score,” Florence said. “They felt like they had been cheated.”
On the morning of Dec. 1, 2000, Florence’s dad, Mickey, died. Ryan played Corsicana that night in the Class 4A Division I quarterfinals. Florence said Corsicana came into the game ranked No. 2 in the state and was a 28-point favorite.
Ryan trailed 22-8 at halftime and was staring at the end of its season. But in the locker room, Florence said, his players decided they were going to come out in the second half and win.
On its final drive, Ryan trailed 29-27 and had no timeouts left. James Battle was a sophomore, a year before his coronation as one of the best quarterbacks to play at Ryan.
Florence didn’t feel comfortable having his young quarterback throwing the ball, so he instead had Battle do what he did best — make plays with his feet.
Corsicana’s defense featured Danieal Manning, who went on to become a three-time All-American at Abilene Christian and is now the starting free safety for the Houston Texans. Manning was nicknamed “Superman,” and had already blocked two extra-point attempts.
So instead of kicking a field goal and risk Superman soaring and swatting Ryan’s season out of the air, Florence put the ball in Battle’s hands on Corsicana’s goal line, ordering the young quarterback to quickly assemble the team if it didn’t score on the first attempt.
Battle was stuffed. He quickly reassembled Ryan’s offense at the goal line, leading to a play nobody has seemed to forget 12 years later.
As the clock was moments away from running out, Battle snapped the ball as a referee threw a flag on the field. Battle took the ball, ran up the middle and was stuffed again. But before he could be tackled, he spun out of the mass of bodies and headed to the left side of the field, where he strolled untouched into the end zone, giving Ryan a 33-29 victory with no time remaining.
“When they threw that flag, it was on the other side of the field,” Florence said. “I had no idea what that flag was, and it was a great relief when I saw them go, ‘Offsides, penalty declined,’ and the referees took off running.”
Two days later, the Raiders once again put on their navy blue jerseys. They took buses to attend Mickey Florence’s funeral, and sat behind the casket where the choir normally sits.
The quarterback for Corsicana on Dec. 1, 2000, was Dustin Rodgers. Rodgers is now 30 and works for his family’s office supply company in McKinney. He remembers that final play and the chaos that enveloped it.
“We for sure thought their [offensive] line wasn’t set,” Rodgers said. “False start, game over. We’re good to go. But it was actually offsides on us. We weren’t set, supposedly. No one knew. It was just a stalemate till they made the call.”
A few years ago, when the Raiders moved into their new fieldhouse, Rodgers’ company was in charge of installing the furniture, including the dark, burgundy wood desk Florence has in the middle of his office.
Rodgers made sure to mention the 2000 game. Florence remembered Rodgers and showed him a picture of him being tackled by about four Ryan players.
“I never thought I’d go in Joey Florence’s office,” Rodgers said.
Florence’s desk is usually empty, aside from a small paddle that says “KWITCHUR
BELYAKIN,” or “Quit your belly achin’.” It was a paddle Florence was threatened with by his grandfather Duward Roscoe “D.R.” Florence.
D.R. Florence, who went by “Dude,” picked up the paddle while working in Ruidoso, N.M., for the Rural Electrification Administration.
When D.R. Florence died and Florence and his brother cleaned out their grandfather’s desk in Rockwall, they gave all his possessions to their grandmother, but Florence kept the paddle.
On Tuesday, Florence had two index cards on his desk with things prepared for today’s game.
With D.R.’s paddle on the edge of the desk, Florence worked the two index cards for the team unofficially bearing the initials of his grandfather, preparing for Denton Ryan’s first game of the season.
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .