At the beginning of the season, questions loomed over Ryan’s football program about how 2012 was going to play out.
The Raiders had lost several key players to graduation and had moved up from Class 4A to 5A, where Ryan had the lowest enrollment in Region I.
But when the season ended Saturday with a 13-point loss to Cedar Hill, the Raiders had shown they were capable of competing at the state’s highest level.
“I think we overcame people talking, saying that we were moving to 5A and weren’t going to be the same,” senior cornerback B.J. Floyd said. “We came, we made the playoffs, and we made it to the second round. We lost some games to some really good teams. I thought we did pretty good. We were just pretty young in 5A.”
Ryan finished with a record of 6-5 and made the playoffs for the 13th straight season, all under head coach Joey Florence.
Florence said this year’s schedule was one of the toughest he’s had at Ryan. The five losses Ryan suffered this year surpassed the amount of losses Ryan had been handed over the previous three seasons.
During that stellar stretch, Ryan went 29-4 and built a 25-game regular-season winning streak. That streak was snapped by Wichita Falls Rider on Sept. 7. Rider plays El Paso Burges this weekend in the Class 4A Division II regional semifinals.
This group of Ryan Raiders is one that held the traditions of the program very well, Florence said.
The coach said the turning point of the season came in the opener against Corsicana. The Raiders entered halftime trailing 22-3 before outscoring the Tigers 37-6 in the second half for one of the biggest comebacks in Ryan history.
“I think we played at that level all year long, I really do,” Florence said. “I think that every game was a battle.”
The Raiders were the last team out of District 5-5A to clinch a playoff berth because of the tiebreaker system, and Ryan earned its spot in the postseason after a 24-17 victory over Flower Mound. However, Ryan finished second in the six-team district behind Coppell, which finished the regular season undefeated.
The Raiders defeated Hurst L.D. Bell 31-28 in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Cedar Hill.
“I wouldn’t change anything, other than I’d like to keep on playing,” Florence said. “I thought this year, in all my years of coaching, was honestly one of the more fun years I’ve had.
“I don’t have any regrets. I thought it was a great season, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Ryan has yet to have any of its players sign a scholarship with a Football Bowl Subdivision university. If Ryan fails to have a player sign at the FBS level, it will be the first time since 2000 — the year Florence was hired — that Ryan wouldn’t have an FBS signee.
Yet, this year’s squad almost advanced as far in the 5A playoffs as its talent-laden roster advanced in the 4A playoffs a year ago.
“For me, when you play as a team, you have an opportunity to win every game you play,” Florence said. “This was not the most talented team, from a talent sense, but it was sure one of the better teams I’ve coached from the standpoint of a pure team stance. I’m very proud of them.”
Senior offensive lineman Matt Griffin said he has an offer from SMU but also has seen interest from Arkansas, Abilene Christian and Louisiana Tech. After three years at the varsity level, Griffin and the rest of the Raiders cleaned out their lockers Tuesday.
“It was a very surreal thing,” Griffin said. “You never envision that you have to clean out your locker after your senior year. You always thought that you’d keep going. And once the season’s over, you’re done.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.