Following Tuesday’s practice, the Ryan Raiders kneeled around head coach Joey Florence in the grass they were practicing on for the last game of the regular season.
The 46-year-old coach commanded the attention of his team, all eyes on him before shifting to the eight white placards at the back of Ryan’s practice stadium — a best-of collection commemorating some of the Raiders’ finest years.
Over the last 12 seasons — all under Florence — the Raiders have not missed the playoffs. In Florence’s 18 years as a head coach, including six at Cooper, and in 24 total years of coaching, he’s never missed the playoffs.
And now, a team that’s been facing Goliaths all through district play must find another stone to at least hobble the final foe on its schedule.
The Raiders (4-4, 2-2 District 5-A) travel to Neal Wilson Stadium to play Flower Mound at 7:30 tonight. Ryan needs to win, or lose by less than 13 points and have Flower Mound Marcus lose to Hebron, in order to keep the two streaks alive.
“We don’t want to be the only team not to go the playoffs in the last 12 seasons [Florence] has been here,” Ryan junior defensive lineman J.T. Williams said. “It’s really important for our seniors. We owe it to them to step it up and play the best games of our lives.”
Ryan has the smallest enrollment in Class 5A Region I and has the seventh-smallest enrollment of all the 5A schools in the state. If Ryan makes the playoffs, it will play Hurst Bell or Colleyville Heritage in the 5A Division II bi-district round at Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, Nov 17.
Flower Mound last made the playoffs in 2010, when it lost in the opening round to Southlake Carroll, and can return if the right situation plays out tonight.
The Raiders will have the services of quarterback Mitchell Bridges and senior receiver Daniel Telaneus. Florence said this week that receiver Xavier Gray was questionable for tonight’s game against the Jaguars (3-6, 1-3).
Defensive lineman Desmond Oliver is one of many seniors who could be playing their final game. Oliver said that after each loss he joins defensive back Corbin Forest, senior offensive linemen Matt Griffin and Jake Hays and others for a postgame meal to mull over that night’s defeat and what the class of 2013’s legacy might be.
“That’s what everybody’s going to know us by — the seniors that didn’t go to the playoffs,” Oliver said.
The Jaguars beat last-place Lewisville by just one point. Flower Mound has lost three straight contests.
Florence said the Jaguars have fought hard every week and there are no slouches in the district. When asked about the possibility of his playoff streaks coming to an end, he shrugged off those notions.
“This isn’t about me,” Florence said. “This is about these kids and these seniors. I think they deserve to go to the playoffs. Like I said, they’ve battled very hard. We’re one of the smallest schools in the district and we went toe-to-toe with people, and I’m very proud of the kids. I want it for them.
“I learned a long time ago, when it’s all said and done, God’s not going to judge me on wins and losses. He’s going to judge me on did I do right and did I treat these kids right. I just want these kids to win. It’s not about my record, or my ego or any streaks for me. All streaks have to come to an end.”
And then Florence gave a slight chuckle before going out to lead his team in practice. “I’m not worried about that.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is email@example.com .