Corsicana and Denton Ryan are two powerhouse football programs who will play anyone, anywhere.
In Zero Week, in the season opener, with huge turnover on both rosters, maybe not so much this year on this Friday night.
But here we are, with Ryan moving up from 4A to 5A and the Tigers reinventing themselves after last year’s state semifinal run, looking at a marquee matchup in Denton.
“It’s 5A vs. 4A,” Tigers coach Phil Castles said. “There’s always a difference. They’re down? They don’t know what down is.”
Sitting in Castles’ office on UIL realignment day with both schools scrambling for an opening game, there’s no doubt it took a lot of thought on both sides to agree to play the next two seasons. In the end, it’s great for high school football.
“Two great programs with great tradition,” said Ryan coach Joey Florence, who has 12 terrific seasons leading the Raiders. “Any time Denton Ryan and Corsicana are playing it’s a great thing. It’s a great thing if you like high school football. It’s not if you’re the head coach for the Denton Ryan Raiders.”
The Tigers and Raiders will play for the first time since 2001, when they met in the playoffs for the second time in two seasons. The 2000 meeting, Florence’s first year as Ryan’s head coach, was a memorable one.
The Tigers nearly produced a game-winning goal line stand, but Ryan quarterback James Battle was able to score on fourth-and-goal from the 1 as the clock hit zero for a 33-29 third-round win (or for Corsicana fans, maybe getting the snap off after the clock hit zero).
“Dec. 1, 2000,” Florence said. “I remember the day well. That morning my dad died. It was an emotional day for me. It was my first year here. We felt fortunate to get away with a win.”
Not much has changed about Ryan football since that day — the Raiders as usual have the potential to be dominant on the defensive line. Ryan only returns three starters on defense, but defensive tackle J.T. Williams and defensive ends Sekou Clark and Desmond Oliver will present the Tigers with a big challenge.
“They’re really big and really confident,” Castles said. “Their starters played one series in their scrimmage (against Grapevine). Their kids are confident. Obviously the coaches are too. They’re a team that goes deep in the playoffs every year.”
The Tigers have made it all three seasons under Castles, so they’ve regained their own powerhouse steam too. Corsicana has a known at the quarterback position with junior Devontay Bell, who rushed and passed for more than 2,869 yards last season.
Bell wasn’t a vital part of the Tigers’ offense in their scrimmage against Mansfield Legacy. He’ll be the man Friday night, and everyone knows it.
“We had an opportunity to see him play last year against Aledo,” Florence said. “If coach Castles knows what he’s doing, he would protect that kid and hold him out for Friday night and hold him out until the games that matter. He’s a great player. He’s special. We’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Ryan has six starters back on offense, but a new quarterback, Mitchell Briggs, who played some last season, rushing for five touchdowns.
“He’s a tough runner,” Florence said. “He’s not a superstar athlete. He’s a tough kid. A winner. He’s what I look for in a high school quarterback.”
The Tigers defense was gashed at times in the scrimmage against Legacy. The hope is that key leaders such as linebackers Breyon Hill and Jacob Grayson will help bring the unit together, and some other key players who maybe weren’t the focal point on defense will step up on Friday night.
“I’m not playing it any way other than we have to get better,” Castles said. “We watched the scrimmage twice. We have so many things to be worried about. We made poor decisions. We have to improve regardless of who are opponent is.”
So it’s Tigers vs. Raiders. It’s Zero Week. The nerves will be high on both sidelines.
“It’s a long road trip,” Castles said. “They’re a team that always plays at a high level. For us, we have a lot of new kids that haven’t been on a road trip. Or haven’t played four quarters in a varsity game. We’re hoping our kids know it’s still football, it’s still 100 yards.
“If our kids play four quarters and fight for four quarters, it will be big.”
Corsicana at Denton Ryan
7:30 p.m. Friday
C.H. Collins Athletic Complex
RECORDS: Class 4A Corsicana was a 13-2 state semifinalist in 2011. Class 5A Denton Ryan was a 12-1 regional semifinalists.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Corsicana: QB Devontay Bell, C Chris Jones, OG Jeffery Jordan, LB Breyon Hill, WR/S Bobby Wallace. Denton Ryan: QB Mitchell Briggs, OT Matt Griffin, DT J.T. Williams, DE Sekou Clark, K Mark Orozco.
UPDATE: The Tigers and Raiders meet for the first time since 2000 and ‘01, when they played in the third round of the playoffs ... Ryan won the games by a combined 10 points — 33-29 in 2000 and 16-10 in ‘01 ... The Tigers know what they have in QB Devontay Bell, who rushed for 1,458 yards and passed for 1,411 yards last season ... after that, there’s some unknowns, but the offensive line should be solid led by Jones and Jordan ... the Tigers’ defensive line will face a challenge and they’ll need consistent games from nose guard Pedro Escamilla ... The Ryan Raiders make the leap up to Class 5A, where they are picked No. 20 in The Dallas Morning News’ preseason poll and third in District 5-5A behind Coppell and Flower Mound Marcus ... Ryan, which has made the playoffs 12 straight seasons under coach Joey Florence, returns six starters on offense and two on defense ... Ryan may be rebuilding on defense, but as always they are strong up front with Williams, Clark and Desmond Oliver all considered college prospects ... Armstrong saw limited playing time last year at QB but rushed for 5 TDs ... A.J. Anderson and Reynal Caldwell will play running back, with Caldwell also playing some receiver ... Griffin was an all-district pick last year ... Orozco was an honorable mention all-state kicker.
— Todd Wills