ARLINGTON — Denton school district athletic director Ken Purcell didn’t stray from superstition as one of his teams trailed at halftime.
At halftime, if his team is losing, Purcell discards the four paper towels he used to dry his sweaty palms in the first half and gets clean cloths.
On Saturday, he left his seat in the press box at AT&T Stadium and got new paper towels, and on the first drive of the second half, Ryan came up with a turnover that sparked the Raiders to a 34-33 win over Waco Midway in a Class 5A Division II Region I area-round playoff game.
“We’ve been here many times in games just like this, and we just have a way of making Raider magic happen,” Ryan coach Joey Florence said.
In the third meeting in four years between the schools, Ryan erased a 13-point halftime deficit to pick up the win.
Ryan (9-2) is one of 16 teams left in the 5A Division II playoffs and advances to face Keller Fossil Ridge in the regional semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Apogee Stadium. The loss eliminated Midway (9-3).
The turning point came on Midway’s first possession of the second half. As the Panthers were driving with a 23-10 lead, Ryan senior linebacker Cole Carpenter dived to the turf and intercepted Midway quarterback Ben Hicks, who was playing with a brace on his right knee.
On the ensuing drive, Ryan scored a touchdown that triggered a stretch of 17 consecutive points to get the Raiders back in the contest.
“That was a tough position we were in and Cole jumped up and made a great play, and then we went down and scored,” Florence said. “I’m proud of the offense.”
Paul Hunter intercepted Hicks twice in the second half. Midway couldn’t advance past its own 30-yard line on its final drive, when a field goal could have given the Panthers the lead.
Hicks completed 23 of 35 passes for 379 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Over the last three games, Ryan’s defense has forced 15 turnovers.
“Coach [Florence] gave us a goal that we had to score on defense at the beginning of the season, and we didn’t until the last game,” Hunter said. “I guess we turned it up at a good time.”
After the Raiders took a 27-23 lead with 11:19 left, Midway and Ryan traded touchdowns in a matter of seconds.
Hicks found Devontre Stricklin on a 53-yard touchdown pass, Stricklin’s second score of the game. On the next play from scrimmage, Ryan senior running back Tyrone Williams ran up the middle for a 63-yard touchdown with 10:12 left, and that ended up being the game’s deciding score.
Williams carried the ball 25 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Trent Willis had 106 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and senior receiver Xavier Gray compiled 86 receiving yards.
“We realized what was on the line, and it kind of turned us on,” Ryan senior quarterback Mitchell Bridges said. “We made a lot of plays in the second half.”
After struggling offensively in the first half and last week against Colleyville Heritage, Ryan flourished in the second half. Ryan’s biggest play of the first half came on the opening kickoff.
Ryan’s Ronnie Coleman took the kick out of the end zone and handed the ball to Gray, who had his back to the oncoming Midway defenders. Gray transferred the ball to Trent Willis, who tiptoed down the left sideline and scored a 91-yard touchdown in the game’s first 16 seconds.
Florence said the last time he called that play was against Corsicana in the 2001 Class 4A quarterfinals, the year Ryan won its first state championship.
Midway answered the kickoff return when running back Eric Clayburn scored on a 1-yard touchdown run for Midway’s first points.
After Ryan’s first score, Midway scored 23 of the game’s next 26 points to take the 23-10 lead. In the second half, the Panthers couldn’t replicate their early success.
“The second half, we didn’t play well, and that’s all on me,” Midway coach Terry Gambill said. “You’ve got to play two halves when you have two great football teams playing.”
Ryan now has a combined record of 15-3 at AT&T Stadium and Texas Stadium, and the Raiders will be practicing during their holiday break.
“Ain’t no turkeys left after Thanksgiving, I’ll promise you,” Florence said.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.
Ryan 34, Waco Midway 33
DR — Trent Willis 91 kickoff return (Marc Orozco kick)
WY — Eric Clayburn 1 run (Leo Peralta kick)
WY — Stephon Free 11 run (Leo Peralta kick)
DR — Marc Orozco 24 FG
WY — Devontre Stricklin 68 pass from Ben Hicks (run failed)
WY — Leo Peralta 40 FG
DR — Tyrone Williams 5 run (Marc Orozco kick)
DR — Marc Orozco 46 FG
DR — Trent Willis 24 pass from Mitchell Bridges (Marc Orozco kick)
WY — Devontre Stricklin 53 pass from Ben Hicks (Leo Peralta kick)
DR — Tyrone Williams 63 run (Marc Orozco kick)
WY — Leo Peralta 27 FG
Rushing — DR: Tyrone Williams 25-159, Mitchell Bridges 15-58, Maurice Gordon 5-12, Team Stat 2--5, WY: Eric Clayburn 10-53, Xavier Hailey 5-49, Stephon Free 3-15, Ben Hicks 7-8.
Passing — DR: Mitchell Bridges 19-24-1-192, WY: Ben Hicks 23-35-3-379, Xavier Hailey 0-1-1-0.
Receiving — DR: Trent Willis 11-106, Xavier Gray 8-86, WY: Devontre Stricklin 5-151, Xavier Hailey 5-65, Cayson Buchle 4-58, Eric Clayburn 4-52, Jayson Clements 2-39, Stephon Free 3-14.