At the outset of Ryan’s loss to Hebron last week, there was a different sense of tenacity shown by the Raiders’ defense.
On a few occasions when Hebron quarterback Carson Proffitt dropped back in the pocket, he scanned the field only to find a Ryan lineman swarming his personal space and then planting him into the ground.
Over the last two weeks, the line and the rest of Ryan’s defense has shown signs of maturation and only allowed one offensive touchdown in each of the two games.
At 7:30 p.m. tonight, the Raiders (3-3, 1-1 District 5-5A) will visit Goldsmith Stadium to face Lewisville (1-6, 0-2), hoping to continue their dominant ways.
Ryan struggled against pass-happy Wylie East and McKinney, games in which Ryan gave up over 500 yards of offense and 34 and 28 points, respectively. The Raiders lost to Wylie East and beat McKinney.
Ryan head coach Joey Florence attributes the defensive improvement to a group of players learning and getting better against offenses that haven’t been as potent as the East and McKinney.
“I think Wylie East and McKinney were really good offensive teams,” Florence said. “They were wide open, and we were young. I think we’ve gotten into district now and we’re a few games under our belt and a little better.”
Florence said teams in 5-5A rely more on the run than the pass, something Ryan’s been able to somewhat contain the past two weeks against Flower Mound Marcus and Hebron.
Marcus’ Mark Demery rushed for 94 yards on 18 carries before being knocked out of the game. Hebron was without star running back Dezmond Wortham, and in his place Braelen Evans tallied 104 yards on 19 carries.
Against Hebron, the Raiders entered the game with two sacks all year. Ryan had five sacks against the Hawks.
Junior linebacker Amir Mohamed was called up from junior varsity midway through the season and picked up a sack and 13 tackles last week. Senior defensive back Justin Grisham added another sack.
Grisham had nine tackles last week and almost doubled his tackle total for the entire year, one of those being the sack of Proffitt.
“It was inspiring,” Grisham said. “It felt good. Whenever you sit and see everybody doing what they want to do, you get that same feeling.
“I feel like we’re striving to succeed. We’re going up against tougher offenses and tougher running backs, of course. The tougher the competition, the tougher we have to play.”
The drive to succeed may not have been apparent before Ryan’s first game of the season against Corsicana.
Senior defensive back B.J. Floyd said things were more jovial than they probably should have been. Ryan entered halftime down 22-3 against Corsicana. The defense was called upon to not be bad, and the Raiders allowed six points in the second half on their way to a comeback victory.
“We were young at the beginning of the year, so I guess we have the hang of it now,” Floyd said. “It just comes.”
Ryan started the year with five seniors on defense, losing Division I athletes like Dominique Banks (Baylor), Jordan Richmond (Texas A&M), Alex De La Torre (Texas) and Mario Edwards (Florida State).
Without those star players, the likes of junior defensive lineman J.T. Williams, senior defensive lineman Desmond Oliver and senior defensive back Reynal Caldwell have stepped up to lead Ryan’s defense.
Williams said that as the season has progressed, there’s been an improved work ethic, something that’s translated to games.
“I think we had a lot of mental errors on the team, and [the team] has matured a lot and they’ve got used to the varsity experience and got comfortable with it and they’ve practiced harder,” Williams said.
Even though Lewisville sits last in the district, Ryan’s head coach doesn’t want to overlook a team boasting running back Deandre Brown, who has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark this season.
“Lewisville, they’re getting better,” Florence said. “I know their record doesn’t reflect it, but they are. They’re playing the heck out of teams like we are. They just got some bad breaks. They’re going to be a battle.”
Ryan’s defense once again will be called upon to halt a strong running back and keep the Raiders in contention for one of 5-5A’s four playoff berths. The way games have been decided in the final quarter this season — coupled with his team’s unrelenting approach — Florence said his 13th year at Ryan may be one of his favorites.
“It’s a credit to these kids and how hard they’re playing,” Florence said. “For an old guy like me, that’s fun. It’s fun to go to the games. You never know what’s going to happen.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .