By MICHAEL CURTIS | Photos by DEB SCALLY
It was a tale of two halves as Cane Ridge’s (12-1) defense propelled it to a 21-18 win over the Ravenwood Raptors (10-3) Friday. The Ravens, who have won 11 consecutive games, persevered through a late comeback by the Raptors to advance to the Class 6A semifinals.
This gritty game began with both teams going three and out on with their initial possessions. Ravenwood couldn’t find the first down marker on their first two drives.
Midway through the second quarter, the play of the half came occurred as Cane Ridge aimed to score their first touchdown on fourth and goal. Ravenwood stopped the run and took control of the ball. The Raptors would eventually get the first points of the game from a field goal.
“In the first half, offensively we kept getting ourselves behind the sticks,” Cane Ridge head coach Eddie Woods said. “If you know anything about offense, if you’re starting first-and-15 or first-and-18, it’s really tough to get in a rhythm. They played a lot of soft zone. They forced us to run the ball, which we can, but running the ball on first-and-18 and trying to establish a drive is tough.”
Cane Ridge RB Devon Starling found his groove in the third quarter as he scored twice while surpassing the 2000-yard milestone for the season. A couple of Ravenwood mistakes later and the score was 14-3.
In what was a defensive first half, the complete opposite occurred in the second, as both teams had several game-changing plays. Most notably, in the fourth quarter. After Ravenwood quarterback Brian Garcia found Jared McArthur for a 4-yard touchdown, the Raptors recovered their own onside kick.
The recovery led to Garcia throwing a lateral pass to Nick Stallcup, who then threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Miller Powell, who caught the ball with one hand.
“Before the comeback, we said ‘We’ve been in a dogfight before. We’re a fourth quarter team,’” Ravenwood first-year head coach Matt Daniels stated. “We’ve done a good job of putting ballgames away or coming back and making it tough on the opponent.”
After a field goal pushed Ravenwood’s lead to 18-14 with 2:15 left in the game, Cane Ridge defensive back Jarad McCray returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens the go-ahead score.
Garcia was able to get his team into field goal range on Ravenwood’s final possession, but Sam French’s game-tying field goal attempt was no good with 28 seconds remaining.
“We had the seniors step up,” Garcia said. “They really pushed me and the rest of the guys to go down and get some points. We just fell short. We were down by three and had to get in field goal range and we were just short. (French) has made those all year long, but it didn’t fall our way.”
“The heart that this team and this senior class showed was just incredible,” Daniels said. “I told the guys at the end that we were picked to finish fifth in the region, to not even make the playoffs and to win two or three ballgames. To do what we did this season and to be in a position to take this thing back home to the semifinals next week, I couldn’t have asked more out of this group. They’re going to go down in history as a very special Ravenwood Raptor football team.”
One of those seniors was Stallcup. He played his last game as a Ravenwood Raptor. When asked what’s the one thing he took away from playing on the team, he said, “Brotherhood, that’s it.”
Cane Ridge will face defending 6A champion Whitehaven in the semifinals next week.
“That kid (Powell) made a hell of a catch,” said Woods. “That’s playoff football. As far as where we go from here, we’re just trying to survive week to week. Let’s rest again, let’s prepare our butts off mentally and let’s go and try to win again. We just need to prepare so we can minimize mistakes.”