Ryan head coach Joey Florence has never been shy about admitting this year’s schedule is possibly the toughest he’s ever had in his 12 years at Ryan.
The Raiders had a stiff nondistrict slate, facing tough 4A teams like Wylie East, Wichita Falls Rider and Corsicana. But when Ryan faces Flower Mound Marcus at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex tonight at 7:30 p.m., the Raiders will enter the toughest portion of their schedule.
Ryan moved up to Class 5A this season and has the lowest enrollment numbers in District 5-5A. The Raiders (2-2) will try to be one of the four teams in the six-team district to reach the postseason.
“They say [5-5A] is one of the toughest districts, up there with Allen and Plano,” Ryan senior defensive end J.T. Williams said. “We can live up to the competition — just get after them and get our ticket to the playoffs. Every week’s going to be a new challenge.”
Allen entered the season as one of the top teams in the state and dismantled Southlake Carroll 24-0 in the first game of the season. Allen was then upset by Coppell in a 27-24 decision.
Coppell (5-0) is currently undefeated and ranked No.4 in Class 5A by The Associated Press. Florence said the Cowboys have looked impressive so far this season.
“They’re the team to beat, there’s no doubt,” he said. “Again, we just have to wait and see. It’ll be interesting to see how the district stacks to those guys.”
Ryan’s only game against a 5A opponent came on Sept. 28 against McKinney, a 35-28 victory over the Lions in Ryan’s first road game this season.
With the likes of Coppell and Hebron in the Raiders’ district, Florence said his team has had to tweak its aspirations for the season.
“We’ve readjusted our goals this year, and that’s smart, just based on the strength of the schedule,” Florence said. “It’s very difficult to beat everybody on the schedule, and I think you have to be mentally strong enough to handle this league. If not, then you’re already behind it if you don’t recognize that.”
Florence has stressed the importance of making the playoffs as the team’s primarily goal. Last season in Class 4A, Ryan went undefeated and won District 4-4A before losing to Waco Midway in the 4A Division I regional semifinals.
“We’re just trying to get a playoff spot,” Florence said. “We’re not really talking about winning district or winning state, or any of that stuff. We recognize, even [compared to] the last time we were in 5A, this district here is a tough road.”
Junior quarterback Mitchell Bridges said he still wants to go undefeated in district and come away with a district championship.
Bridges, who has missed the last three games with a fractured fibula, will be returning as the team’s starting quarterback tonight against Marcus (1-4). Bridges stressed the importance of tonight’s district opener.
“It’s a big game for us,” he said. “It pretty much decides the rest of the season for us. It sets the tone for district and what to expect for every other game.”
Ryan only has to play its games against Flower Mound and Lewisville on the road, with the other three played at C.H. Collins. The Raiders will enter each district game as the smaller school, the school yearning to prove it belongs in 5A.
“We need to show them we’re not scared of 5A football,” Williams said. “We’re ready to play.
“As long as we play as a team, we can beat anybody.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .