Ryan coach Joey Florence knew by halftime of Monday’s playoff grudge match with Cedar Hill that his defense had played way too many snaps.
Cedar Hill recognized it, too, and unlike Ryan’s recent playoff opponents, killed another Raiders’ second-half rally by sticking with what it had been good at all day — pounding the ground game — for a 52-29 win in the Class 5A Division II Region I final at Apogee Stadium.
The Longhorns rushed for a season-high 438 yards, which represented all but 79 of their total yards on offense. Aca’cedric Ware and Larry Hill accounted for 170 and 127 yards, respectively, and combined for five touchdowns.
“They [Cedar Hill] hurry you up and get you tired. We left our defense on the field too much and by the fourth quarter we were just gassed,” said Florence, whose team lost to Cedar Hill in the area round last year.
The defense gave up runs of 39, 17, 24 and 22 yards in the fourth quarter and the Longhorns scored 21 straight points. The surge leveled what had been a solid comeback bid for the Raiders, who outscored Cedar Hill 23-8 in the third quarter to narrow what was a 23-0 halftime deficit to eight points.
Cedar Hill opened the fourth quarter with a six-play, 56-yard drive — all on the ground — for a 38-23 lead. Hill, who carried the ball five times on that drive, capped it with a 1-yard scoring run.
Ryan, already backed up deep in Longhorns territory, fumbled on the first play of its ensuing possession and Hill scored one play later from 6 yards out to extend Cedar Hill’s lead to 22 with 9:57 left.
“We’ve been in this position before [behind big to start the second half], but Cedar Hill was more prepared and chose to be more aggressive,” Ryan defensive tackle J.T. Williams said. “We just had too many missed tackles. Turnovers killed us. They flat out beat us.”
Another big reason for Cedar Hill’s success was that the Raiders could not get their offense going in the first half and was 0-for-6 on third downs in that stretch. Cedar Hill already had 220 rushing yards by halftime and outgained Ryan 273-31.
The key to the game, though, was that the Longhorns stuck with the same bruising approach that gave them the big early lead. In last week’s semifinal game, Fossil Ridge gained 239 first-half yards — mostly through the air — for a 31-7 halftime lead against Ryan.
But the Panthers abandoned the pass and went run heavy to open the third quarter. By the time Fossil Ridge went back to the passing game, Ryan had all the momentum.
The Raiders went on to win 42-37 to mark the program’s largest comeback.
On Monday, the Raiders again showed life to open the second half. Paul Hunter recovered a Cedar Hill fumble and raced 22 yards for the team’s first score.
The Longhorns were then forced to punt on their next drive, and Ryan scored again on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Bridges to Trent Willis. The score cut the Cedar Hill lead to 23-15.
But the Longhorns reasserted their original game plan and ran the ball on all 16 of its remaining plays, scoring 29 points, to run away with the victory.
“If we would have gotten a couple of stops, we would have scored,” Bridges said. “If we made fewer mistakes, I think we would have had a chance, but it didn’t go our way.”