STORY BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
With one last week in the regular season to go, the county’s football teams all trying to get one last great October effort in before the playoffs make their way into the forefront.
Though, this week, the playoffs start a bit early for both the Raptors and Eagles, who are contending for Region 6-6A playoff seating and are both flying high after promising seasons.
For Ravenwood, junior quarterback Brian Garcia has taken his new starting role in stride, powering the Raptors to seven wins and setting the school’s touchdown record.
The team’s offense continues to click with guys like Tony Rice, Anthony Holmes, Andrew Mason and William Baine giving Garcia the support he needs to find success. The defense can also get after the quarterback and defend the pass and run with the best of them.
Independence started the year at 1-3 and turned it around in major fashion. They’ve gone 3-1 since then and have just that record in the region (that early-season loss to Centennial lingers still, at least in the win-loss column).
T.J. Sheffield and Isaiah Collier have been the best receiving duo in the county this season, with quarterbacks Nathan Cisco and Ethan Cash both lighting up the stat sheet and opposing end zones.
An October surprise, the team has added former Brentwood receiver and college recruit Chayce Bishop into the fold to give this Eagles unit a triple threat like few have in the state. Indy’s defense has also come on strong as of late after a tough start to help buoy this team’s postseason hopes.
Ravenwood’s Matt Daniels and Indy’s Scott Blade are two of the smartest play-callers in the county and might be heading down to the WillCO.K. Corral for a shootout like we haven’t seen all season.
Ravenwood/Indy is our Game of the Week.
Ravenwood prepping for chess match against explosive offense
Ravenwood head coach Matt Daniels and his staff will no doubt be spending just a bit more time at the whiteboard this week, trying to figure out just how to slow down the new Eagles.
“[They’re] very similar [to what they were last year], but just a little bit more explosive,” Daniels said. “We’re used to, on defense, having to get creative to slow down a lot of the offenses we face, and that we have faced, throughout the yea, not one, not two, but several play makers.
“This is a fun week for our defense coordinator Ryan Fowler. He loves these types of matchups that are a significant challenge, and it lets him be creative and find ways to stop those guys, hopefully in a way they haven’t seen yet this year.”
The Raptors coach also readily acknowledges how different this Eagles unit is from the one that entered the year, particularly the guys on defense.
“Just as a team, they’ve improved significantly,” Daniels said. “When you look at earlier films, you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt…but at the same time, I don’t think they’ve seen a running game like ours.”
Daniels also feels that the passing attack and the general balance of what the Raptors can do will present its own unique challenges for the visiting Eagles.
“We feel good [about the game],” Daniels said. “I don’t think we want it to be a shootout…we don’t like the idea of that type of ball game, just because Independence has so much firepower, but we feel like we can strike a balance with our offense and hopefully not make it that type of shootout.”
With Bishop in tow, Indy pushes ahead for playoffs
The Eagles probably weren’t expecting to add a receiver to their already-explosive offense with offers from Vanderbilt other D-1 schools in mid-October.
“We’re just trying to do what we do and make it as simple as we can to get another quality player up to speed on what we do and why we call things,” Blade said. “He’s had a couple weeks now in the program, so he’s learning the terminology, learning the expectation, learning the way we do things…every week, he’ll be a little more comfortable.”
For trying to size up his opponent, particularly in his newly-resurgent defense taking on all that the Raptors can do offensively, Blade threw out some tried-and-true coach speak and said he feels like it’ll be a “who has the ball last” kind of night.
“I think this game comes down to who gets the most stops,” Blade said. “They do a heck of a job on offense, a heck of a job on defense. It’s going to be a heck of a game…[whoever] gets the least amount of errors is probably going to have the best chance of winning.
“It sounds silly, but when you get down to the end of the season, that’s how it works. The good teams stop making the silly mistakes, and force the other team to do things they don’t want to do, and the less-than-good teams are going to continue making mistakes. We hope we’ve advanced there.”
Daniels, Blade reflect on region possibilities
The region is up for grabs right now between Ravenwood, Indy and Brentwood.
Daniels said that the stakes for who takes home the title is right where it was last year, though the Raptors and Eagles find themselves in separate spots.
“Last year, we were hosting them, and all we needed to do was to win, essentially, to win the region, and that’s exactly what Independence has going on for them this year,” Daniels said. “If they were to come out on top, and Brentwood was to hold to it against Centennial, then we’d drop down to the third seed, and Independence is the number one seed.”
The dominoes falling this way could position Ravenwood into seeing Independence twice in a matter of just a few weeks.
“You never want to face a region rival that much late in the season, so that’s a little extra motivation for us,” Daniels said.
But, to the coach and the Raptors, the thought of getting a home playoff game is motivation enough to take care of business Friday.
“November football at Ravenwood is a really fun tradition, and that’s something that we want to keep alive,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of motivation to come out and do everything we can to get this win.”
For Blade, it’s an all-Indy focus. Who they play and where they play is now in their hands with a win Friday.
“The only thing we’re really concerned about is if we win, we’re in first place and host a playoff game next week,” Blade said. “[We’re] the only thing we can control. That’s where everybody’s mindset is.”