Longview and Denton Ryan didn’t face each other in a football game until last December’s regional semifinal matchup, but the Texas high school powers have added chapters two and three to their series during the 2021 season.
The Lobos dropped a 27-9 playoff game against Denton Ryan on Dec. 26, 2020 and a 40-7 season-opening 2021 contest on Aug. 28, but will use their week-long preparation to put themselves in a position to earn their first win in the series when they battle the Raiders in this week’s Class 5A Division I Region II semifinal.
The game is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m., and will take place at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
“It never gets old,” Longview athletic director and head football coach John King said of his latest team’s advancement to the third round of the playoffs and having Thanksgiving week practice. “Something that we all talk about and definitely don’t take lightly. It means you’re in the third round of the playoffs, which is halfway to what it takes to win a state championship. You’re down to 16 teams left. It’s pretty elite company.”
The recent matchups between Longview and Denton Ryan have resulted in both teams being familiar with the other’s roster, but there has also been plenty of player development and growth since the last meeting nearly three months ago.
“I’m sure those guys have gotten better,” King said of the players on Denton Ryan’s roster. “And from the looks of their scores, they’re playing pretty well. But, we know it’s going to be a physical and well-coached football team that we’ve got to face. There’s no secret to it.”
That’s why 9-3 Longview has to be ready for the duel with defending state champion Ryan, which currently holds an 11-1 record in the 2021 season. The Lobos, like this week’s opponent, introduced new faces during the year’s first meeting after a large turnover of their roster due to the previous school year’s graduation class, but those players have earned valuable playing experience in the 11 games since, and have the ability to step up more in their biggest game to date.
“Hopefully, we’re better prepared ourselves,” said King. “We started six sophomores in that game. Quite honestly, they were not ready. That was a reality check for coaches, kids and everybody.”
Longview has leaned on its run game throughout the season, and needs to break through in that department to put pressure on Denton Ryan’s defense.
That was an important offensive focus going into Friday’s 34-14 area round playoff win against Lancaster at Mesquite Memorial Stadium. The Lobos finished with 226 yards on the ground, with dual-threat quarterback Joshua Thomas leading the charge with a team-high 141 rushing yards and running back Taylor Tatum contributing 83.
In comparison, Longview was held to 76 rushing yards in the early season 40-7 loss against Denton Ryan. Jordan Allen, the team’s other quarterback, had a team-best 33 yards on the ground and recorded the Lobos’ only score on a keeper.
“We haven’t had much running success against Denton Ryan, other than Jordan Allen’s touchdown run in the first quarter [in August],” said King. “We’ve played them twice the last two years and combined for 16 points in two games. Haven’t been very efficient offensively.”
Ryan earned a 28-20 area win over Magnolia West on Saturday.