Ryan head coach Joey Florence has played at the homes of the Dallas Cowboys — Texas Stadium and Cowboys Stadium — so many times that he can’t keep track of how many games Ryan’s played there in his 13 years.
He can recall some of the more memorable games there — the game against Corsicana after his father died, beating Ennis, defeating current Detroit Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and Highland Park.
But the last time the Raiders were at Cowboys Stadium, it was one outing he’d like to forget —a 27-7 loss to Lake Travis in the 2010 Class 4A Division I state championship.
Tonight at 5 p.m., Ryan returns to Cowboys Stadium for its Class 5A Division II bi-district round game against Hurst L.D. Bell.
Senior defensive back Corbin Forest was on the sidelines for that game two years ago. He was on the team that fell short against Waco Midway last year in the 4A Division I regional semifinals. And now he’s one of the few seniors looking to make an unlikely run in the 5A playoffs.
“I just want to go there and make a name for ourselves at Cowboys Stadium because it’s a completely different team,” Forest said. “I don’t want to lose, for sure. We want to make our own name there.”
The Raiders (5-4) squeaked into the playoffs on the last week of the season, beating Flower Mound on the road to clinch District 5-5A’s last playoff spot. But because Flower Mound Marcus beat Hebron in the last week, Ryan is 5-5A’s No.1 seed in the 5A Division II playoffs.
Throughout the season, Florence has spoken of this year being one of the toughest seasons he’s coached.
Six of Ryan’s nine games have been decided by seven points or less.
“We struggled a lot,” Ryan junior defensive end J.T. Williams said. “I didn’t think we’d struggle a lot against Lewisville or any of these teams like Flower Mound. I thought we were just going to take over 5A. But like Coach Florence said, there’s no pushovers in 5A.”
And against Bell (7-3), the Raiders’ defense will be tested by a balanced offensive attack and a gritty squad.
“They’re very balanced on offense and very physical on defense,” Florence said of Bell. “The game’s going to be won on the line. They’re good on their defensive and offensive lines. We have to match their [physicality]. That’s the biggest thing.”
And the game will be played in a place that harkens memories for Florence.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, Florence and his father, Mickey, would attend games all day at the old Texas Stadium. The teams Florence played on at Rockwall never qualified for the playoffs, and the memories of watching those high school games with his father overshadow the memories he has of watching the Cowboys play there.
Ryan assistant coach Richard Lay started his coaching career 40 years ago at Fairley (Tenn.), a school located in Memphis, and after coaching at Mineola, Galena Park, Floresville, Canton, Gainesville and Denton, Lay will coach for the first time at the home of one of the most prestigious sports teams in the world.
“I’ve never been in it,” Lay said. “When I found that’s where our first round would be, I was really fired up and really excited about it.
“Everybody gets a picture in their mind, but you don’t know what it’s going to be like, other than what you’ve seen on television.”
It’s the destination Florence wanted his team to reach all season, as the team had its eyes fixed on the blue star on midfield. The Raiders are now there, waiting to see if they make a playoff run.
“It’s always been a special place, even when it was Texas Stadium,” Florence said. “Now, it’s an amazing facility. It’s indescribable. It’s hard to describe until you walk down there on that field, how big the stadium is, how big the [score] board is. It’s pretty impressive.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .