One of Northern Kentucky's top rivalries unfolds on Friday night in Union as Ryle welcomes Simon Kenton. One team will advance to the state semi-finals and the other will go home.
Ryle has only suffered one loss all season and it came in their second game to 5A power Highlands. Since then the Raiders have rolled off 10 straight wins, including avenging their loss to Highlands and two impressive playoff victories.
Simon Kenton finished second in the district behind Ryle after losing to the Raiders 38-35 during the regular season. The Pioneers have played it closer to the vest during its two postseason games beating Tates Creek by 10 two weeks ago before winning 21-19 at Henry Clay last time out.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup:
SIMON KENTON (10-2) AT RYLE (11-1)
Clifford B. Borland Stadium
7:30 p.m. kickoff
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Junior running back Travis Elliott has emerged as Northern Kentucky's best offensive weapon during the 2010 campaign. He enters this contest with 1,891 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground. Both teams boast stellar senior leadership at the quarterback position. Ryle's Conner Hempel, who will continue his career at Harvard, has thrown 1,099 yards while picking up another 785 on the ground while coming up with 19 touchdowns. Simon Kenton's Chad Lawrence has already grabbed all of the Simon Kenton records and has posted one of the best winning percentages ever in Northern Kentucky. The dual-threat senior has passed for 2,410 yards and 27 scores and rushed for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns.
TEAM TRENDS: The home team has won five straight games, including Ryle's October win this season. The Raiders have scored at least 28 points in nine of their 11 contests. Four of the Raiders 11 victories have come by less than a touchdown. Ryle averages 36 points per game while Simon Kenton puts 32 points per game. However, Simon Kenton has allowed nine less points on the season on defense. The Pioneers enters the contest as winners of five straight games.
RYLE'S KEYS TO VICTORY: For the Raiders it is going to need to start with defense. They can ill afford to let Simon Kenton turn five-yard gains into 20 yard gains. Forcing turnovers will give a big lift to the team. Defensive backs Zach Senvinksy and Luke Boggs are ball hawks in the secondary and if Ryle's defensive front can put pressure on Lawrence, the duo will be in position to make plays. Pounding Elliott will help set up the play-action pass for Hempel and allow Deion Mullins, Caleb Lonkard, and Taylor Thibodeau to make plays.
SIMON KENTON'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Simon Kenton doesn't have any problems putting points on the board through the air, but the team will need to put together something in the ground game to keep the tempo from getting out of hand and to keep the Raiders' defense honest. Keep the Raiders' spread out will be key and Lawrence will need to continue to sprinkle his passes around getting DJ Rabe, Ryan Winkler, and Zach Carroll all involved. Coming up with some stops on defense is a must. There won't be many punts in this game, so the team that prevents more fourth-down conversions will likely come out on top.
FINAL TAKE: Expect one of the most exciting games of the season when these two schools square off. It will likely come down to who has the ball last. Ryle gets the slight edge with a more a balanced offense, but Simon Kenton is better suited to come from behind…RYLE 34, SIMON KENTON 28
Written by: Dan Clasgens, TriStateFootball.com