GRAPEVINE — Ryan’s offense didn’t need to be great in Friday night’s playoff game.
The way the Raiders played on defense and special teams, they needed just enough points to fend off Colleyville Heritage in Friday night’s Class 5A Division II Region I bi-district contest.
The Raiders forced six turnovers to survive and pick up a 44-34 victory against the Panthers at Mustang-Panther Stadium.
Heritage bested Ryan in almost every offensive category, but the Raiders were able to fend off a late rally by the Panthers.
“It’s huge because we were struggling offensively,” Ryan head coach Joey Florence said of the forced turnovers. “We did some good things offensively, but we didn’t do some other things. It was good. The defense stepped up.”
Ryan (8-2) advances to face either Waco Midway or Mansfield at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium on Nov. 23 at 11 a.m. The loss eliminates Heritage (8-3) from the postseason.
Friday night’s victory was the 150th victory for Florence as Ryan’s head coach. Earlier this season, Florence picked up his 200th career victory against Flower Mound Marcus.
The Raiders needed a strong night defensively to pick up Florence’s milestone win.
Senior linebacker Reese Strait scored on a 32-yard fumble return, and senior defensive lineman Tederick Williams recovered a blocked punt and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown.
At the end of the third quarter, Ryan resembled a weary fighter lumbering on the ropes, waiting for the finish.
Heritage closed the quarter with 14 straight points, and looked as if it was about to erase a 20-point deficit.
But with less than nine minutes left and the Panthers trailing by nine points, Heritage senior quarterback Griffin Pickler was picked off by senior defensive back Robert Conner. Conner celebrated while Pickler stood in the middle of the field with his hands on his helmets, elbows bent.
“We had this game, basically,” senior defensive lineman Alex Funches said. “We just needed a turnover and it was a really important play. That just snapped into place all the puzzle pieces.”
Pickler completed 32 of 53 passes for 388 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Pickler was dealing with a decimated offensive line. After losing two offensive linemen last week, Heritage lost two more starting linemen against Ryan and a backup lineman.
Heritage still held onto a small glimmer of hope late in the game. But that vanished after the Panthers fumbled a punt and Ryan recovered. Tyrone Williams scored on a 4-yard run with 2:47 left to cement the win.
“I think that when we stopped them and we recovered the punt, that was the momentum. That’s what we needed,” Strait said.
The Raiders’ offense came up with big plays early and allowed them to jump out to an early lead.
On the third play from scrimmage, Ryan jumped out to a quick lead when senior quarterback Mitchell Bridges fired a deep pass to Trent Willis. Willis jumped, caught it and shrugged off his defender to complete the 73-yard touchdown reception that put Ryan ahead 7-0.
The Raiders doubled their lead when Xavier Gray sprinted in from the side of the field, took a handoff and passed the ball to Bridges, who got behind Heritage’s defense for a 16-yard touchdown reception, giving Ryan a 14-0 advantage.
Strait’s defensive touchdown and Tederick Williams’ blocked punt return for a touchdown enabled the Raiders to take a 27-14 lead going into halftime.
Heritage carried waves of momentum throughout the second half, but costly turnovers abruptly halted hopes of picking up a comeback victory. Ryan did just enough to solidify its spot in the next round of the playoffs.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Florence said. “It’s a win, and we’re here to fight another day.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.
Ryan 44, Colleyville Heritage 34
DR — Trent Willis 73 pass from Mitchell Bridges (Marc Orozco kick)
DR — Mitchell Bridges 16 pass from Xavier Gray (Marc Orozco kick)
CY — Demarco Corbin 7 run (Max Allan kick)
DR — Reese Strait 32 fumble return (Marc Orozco kick)
CY — Jacob Sisk 22 pass from Griffin Pickler (Max Allan kick)
DR — Tederick Williams 9 blocked punt return (kick blocked)
DR — Reilly Martinez 4 pass from Mitchell Bridges (Marc Orozco kick)
CY — Trey Smith 9 pass from Griffin Pickler (Max Allan kick)
CY — Demarco Corbin 1 run (Max Allan kick)
DR — Marc Orozco 25 FG
DR — Tyrone Williams 4 run (Marc Orozco kick)
CY — Jacob Sisk 8 pass from Griffin Pickler (pass failed)
Rushing — CY: Demarco Corbin 11-38, Griffin Pickler 14-10, Blake Greeves 1-5, Team Stat 1--7, Cade Garner 1--8, DR: Tyrone Williams 19-52, Mitchell Bridges 17-49, Maurice Gordon 2-8, Paul Hunter 1-0, Team Stat 2--4, Xavier Gray 1--5.
Passing — CY: Griffin Pickler 32-53-2-388, DR: Mitchell Bridges 8-14-1-158, Xavier Gray 1-1-0-16.
Receiving — CY: Jacob Sisk 10-119, Demarco Corbin 6-66, Trey Smith 5-63, Ryan Phillippe 2-53, Jake Newell 5-47, Jackson Zeledon 3-34, Justin Toberny 1-6, DR: Trent Willis 2-81, Xavier Gray 4-57, Mitchell Bridges 1-16, Maurice Gordon 1-16, Reilly Martinez 1-4.