Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Denton Ryan's comeback, fourth-quarter defense put Raiders in regionals
Denton ISD athletic director Ken Purcell didn’t stray from superstition as one of his district's teams trailed at halftime.
At halftime, if his team is losing, Purcell discards the four paper towels he used in the first half to dry his sweaty palms to get clean cloths.
On Saturday afternoon, he left his seat in the press box at AT&T Stadium, got new paper towels, and on the first drive of the second half, Ryan came up with the turnover that sparked the Raiders to a 34-33 win against Waco Midway in a Class 5A Division II Region I area game.
“We’ve been here many times in games just like this, and we just have a way of making Raider magic happen,” Ryan head coach Joey Florence said.
In the third meeting in four years between the two schools, Ryan erased a 13-point halftime deficit to pick up the win at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Ryan (9-2) is now one of 16 teams left in the Class 5A Division II playoffs and advances to face Keller Fossil Ridge or San Angelo Central in the regional semifinals next Saturday. The loss eliminates Midway (9-3) from the playoffs.
If Fossil Ridge beats Central, Ryan and Fossil Ridge will play at North Texas’ Apogee Stadium this Saturday at 1 p.m.
The turning point of the contest came on Midway’s first possession of the second half. As the Panthers were driving down the field, Ryan senior linebacker Cole Carpenter dived to the turf and intercepted Midway junior quarterback Ben Hicks, who was playing with a large brace on his right knee.
On the ensuing drive, Ryan scored a touchdown that triggered a stretch of 17 unanswered points to get the Raiders back in the contest.
“That was a tough position we were in, and Cole jumped up and made a great play, and then we went down and scored,” Florence said. “I’m proud of the offense.”
Paul Hunter intercepted Hicks twice in the second half. Midway couldn’t advance past its own 30-yard line on its final drive of the game, when a field goal could have given the Panthers a potential victory.
Hicks completed 23 of 35 passes for 379 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Over the last three games, Ryan’s defense has forced 15 turnovers.
“Coach [Florence] gave us a goal that we had to score on defense at the beginning of the season, and we didn’t until the last game,” Hunter said. “I guess we turned it up at a good time.”
After the Raiders took a 27-23 lead with 11:19 left in the game, Midway and Ryan traded touchdowns in a matter of seconds.
Hicks found junior wide receiver Devontre Stricklin for a 53-yard touchdown reception, Stricklin’s second touchdown of the game. On the next play from scrimmage, Ryan senior running back Tyrone Williams ran up the middle of the field for a 63-yard touchdown with 10:12 left, and that ended up being the game’s deciding score.
Williams carried the ball 25 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Trent Willis had 106 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Xavier Gray compiled 86 receiving yards.
“We realized what was on the line, and it kind of turned us on,” Ryan senior quarterback Mitchell Bridges said. We made a lot of plays in the second half.”
After struggling offensively in the first half and last week against Colleyville Heritage, Ryan flourished in the second half. Ryan’s biggest play of the first half came on the game’s opening kickoff.
Ryan’s Ronnie Coleman took the kick out of the Ryan end zone and handed the ball to Xavier Gray, who had his back to the oncoming Midway defenders. Gray transferred the ball to Trent Willis, who tiptoed down the left sidelines and scored a 91-yard touchdown in the game’s first 16 seconds.
Florence said the last time he called that play was against Corsicana in the 2001 Class 4A state quarterfinals, the year Ryan won its first state championship.
Midway answered the kickoff return when sophomore running back Eric Clayburn scored on a 1-yard touchdown run for Midway’s first points.
However, Midway responded and scored 23 of the game’s next 26 points to take a 23-10 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Panthers’ offense couldn’t replicate their early success. After their third score, Midway head coach Terry Gambill called a fake pass on the point-after attempt that was unsuccessful.
“The second half, we didn’t play well, and that’s all on me,” Gambill said. “You gotta play two halves when you have two great teams football teams playing.”
Ryan now has a combined record of 15-3 at AT&T Stadium and Texas Stadium, the former home of Dallas’ NFL franchise.
And with a little Ryan magic on Saturday, the win means the Raiders will be practicing during Thanksgiving break and playing after the holiday.
“Ain’t no turkeys left after Thanksgiving, I’ll promise you,” Florence said.
Follow Ben Baby on Twitter at @Ben_Baby.