Football: Coppell could pose Ryan’s toughest test

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Moments after Ryan’s first shutout victory in three years, Raiders coach Joey Florence still wasn’t pleased with last week’s win over Lewisville.

His team won 33-0, but for Florence, the win wasn’t as pretty as he would have liked.

The Raiders picked up a key District 5-5A victory but still committed a bevy of errors, things that Florence knows his team can’t get away with as the regular season closes and his team chases its 14th straight playoff berth.

Ryan will face its toughest test of the season when the Raiders travel to Buddy Echols Field to face Coppell at 7:30 tonight. Coppell (6-1, 3-0 district) has not lost a district game since 2011 and is receiving votes in The Associated Press’ Class 5A poll.

With two games left in the regular season, Florence said Ryan isn’t playing well in some areas, and that if the Raiders don’t improve, winning will become much more of a challenge.

“We’re making too many penalties,” Florence said. “We’re snapping the ball over the quarterback’s head, fumbling the football, throwing interceptions. All that will catch up to you if you’re not careful.”

Ryan (6-1, 2-1) is tied with Hebron for second place in the district. Hebron defeated Ryan two weeks ago and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two schools.

Coppell’s only loss this season came against Allen — Class 5A’s No. 1 team and the defending 5A Division I champion.

Last year, Ryan started fourth-string quarterback Kevin Ray in a 21-3 loss to the Cowboys.

“It’ll probably be our biggest game of the year — one we’ve been looking forward to since last year, since we didn’t really have our starting quarterbacks and all that,” Ryan senior receiver Xavier Gray said.

To pick up its biggest win, Ryan will need to cut down on the mistakes that have plagued the Raiders throughout the season.

Ryan is minus-three in the turnover margin and is averaging 58.6 penalty yards per game. At times, Ryan has failed to execute near the opposing goal line and settled for field goals. Florence said his entire team needs be more focused to correct some of its mental mistakes.

Fumbles near the goal line cost Ryan touchdowns against Hebron and Lewisville. Misguided snaps have hurt Ryan twice near the goal line in separate games. In a 13-10 win over Flower Mound Marcus, a penalty negated a rushing touchdown. Two plays later, Ryan turned the ball over on an interception.

“It’s just kids,” Florence said. “It’s just the game. It’s a lack of focus, I think. And it’s not just the kids. That’s probably coaching, too. We’ve got to get a little bit more focused. We’re taking steps to do that in practice.”

Ryan has more than the little things to worry about tonight.

Coppell’s defense features senior Solomon Thomas, the second-ranked class of 2014 recruit in the state by Rivals.com. The Cowboys’ offense has scored at least 40 points on four occasions this season, including last week’s 41-3 win against Marcus.

Coppell coach Joe McBride said the offense’s success starts with its offensive line.

“Our O-line is playing well and playing hard together,” McBride said. “Just a great, committed group. And we feel like we have three good running backs that when they get creases they can make things happen.”

Ryan senior defensive lineman Reese Strait will be one of those charged with stopping Coppell’s offensive attack. When asked about the mental errors that have plagued the Raiders the past few weeks, Strait said they were crippling.

The senior said Ryan can be “a hundredfold better” if the Raiders can eradicate those mistakes.

“[What’s] going to determine the difference between winning the game and losing the game is those mistakes right there,” Strait said.

BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.


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