Thanksgiving isn’t for another two weeks and Christmas is 40 days away, but the most wonderful time of the year begins this weekend.
That’s right. It’s the start of the Texas high school football playoffs, where players, coaches and teams establish their legacies.
Ryan has made the playoffs for the 14th straight season and opens the postseason tomorrow night against Colleyville Heritage (full disclosure: Heritage is my alma mater).
Let’s take a look at tonight’s bi-district matchup.
Class 5A Region I bi-district round
Ryan (7-2) at Colleyville Heritage (8-2), 7:30 p.m., Mustang-Panther Stadium
Series Record: Heritage leads 4-2
How we got here: Ryan virtually cemented its playoff destination after the Raiders lost to Hebron. It was pretty clear the Raiders were going to throttle Lewisville and Flower Mound, and get throttled by Coppell. Ryan has only played two close games this season – a win against Flower Mound Marcus and a loss to Hebron.
Heritage’s record should have three losses, but Guyer had to forfeit its win over the Panthers after the Wildcats unknowingly used an ineligible player.
Heritage finished second in District 6-5A and its only loss in district play was to Euless Trinity, the district champs. Heritage easily defeated Hurst Bell in Week 10 to earn the top 5A DII spot and face the Raiders.
“We’re playing a lot better than we were at the beginning,” Heritage head coach Mike Fuller said. “I don’t know if we’re playing to their level yet, but we’re playing better.”
What to look forward to this year: This is an interesting matchup. Other than Coppell, this could be the best team Ryan has faced this season. But at the same time, 6-5A was perceived to be slightly weaker than last year. It’ll be a good test for both teams.
What could hurt Ryan is Heritage’s ability to score on big plays. Last week against Bell, Heritage had three touchdown passes of 40 yards or greater.
“Some of it is how people are aligning to us, and some of it’s taking shots to kind of back people off a little bit,” Fuller said. “When we throw deep, we’re not necessarily thinking it’s going to be a completion. Sometimes we’re thinking it’ll loosen them up a little bit and we can get some underneath stuff.”
Big plays are what crippled Ryan against Hebron and Coppell, and Ryan’s secondary is the weakest part of the team’s defense.
The Raiders will need to take advantage of a Heritage offensive line missing a guard and a tackle. If Ryan can at least disrupt Heritage quarterback Griffin Pickler from finding his Trey Smith or Ryan Phillippe, the Raiders should be fine.
Heritage runs the spread offense and doesn’t really run the ball, something the team’s numbers reflect.
Why this game will be played at Heritage: Heritage won a home-and-home coin flip to host the playoff game. If the Raiders won the toss, the game would have been played at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.
The winner plays: Waco Midway or Mansfield at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 23 at 11 a.m.
Ryan player to watch: QB Mitchell Bridges (1,252 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions)
Heritage player to watch: QB Griffin Pickler (2,134 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, six interceptions)