The Ryle Raiders have cruised through their first three post-season opponents and now gets to play their fourth straight playoff game at home.
The Trinity Shamrocks, who are tied for Highlands with a state best 19 state titles, are coming to town to tangle with the Raiders.
Both teams only have one blemish on their 2010 resumes. Trinity fell to St. Xavier (OH) at home 17-10. Ryle lost at Highlands in Week 2, a loss they avenged in their regular-season finale.
The winner on Friday night will punch a ticket to Bowling Green next weekend to play in the Class 6A title game.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup:
TRINITY (12-1) AT RYLE (12-1)
Clifford B. Borland Stadium
Friday, Nov. 26 - 7:30 p.m.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Junior running back Travis Elliott has been a monster for the Raiders all season as is coming off a five-touchdown effort against Simon Kenton. He enters Friday contest with an eye-popping 2,129 yards and 32 touchdowns. Trinity quarterback Travis Wright is one of the most highly-touted sophomores in the nation. He has enjoyed a breakout season, completing 187 of his 267 passes for 2,422 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
TEAM TRENDS: The Raiders net 39 points per game while giving up 19.1 Ryle has allowed eight of their 13 opponents to score at two touchdowns or more. Trinity has averaged 42.6 points per contest this season offensively while yielding just 11.3 points per game. They have outscored their post-season opponents by a 138-26 margin. The Shamrocks have scored 35 points or more in eight straight games. Ryle lost 41-7 is their last meeting in the 2006 Class 4A state championship game.
RYLE'S KEYS TO VICTORY: There's no doubt that the Raiders believe they can win this game, now they must execute. It starts with the turnover battle. Quarterback Conner Hempel must protect the football and defensive playmakers like Zach Senvisky and Luke Boggs need to keep making plays in the secondary. Secondly, the Raiders' offensive line needs to have its best game. The unit has been rock solid, led by tackles Bill Schild and Brad Weber. One thing that Ryle can ill afford is to fall behind early. Their passing offense relies on the play-action way too much and if they get forced into pass-only situations they will not be prepared for success. The Raiders need the crowd to be involved and to become a factor, which also suggests a fast start is critical. Ryle will need to be aggressive and they must keep the Shamrocks honest by getting something going through the air if the running game is going to continue to be effective.
TRINITY'S KEYS TO VICTORY: One look at Trinity's roster reveals one distinct advantage – depth. If the Shamrocks can wear down many of the Raiders' two-way starters, it will be hard for Ryle to step up. The best way to wear down a team is with a running game. Trinity's backfield is led by senior running back Derek Bishop, who rushed for 1,508 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing. If he has a big night it will not spell good things for the Raiders. Wideouts James Quick and Hunter Knopp, who have combined for 24 TD catches, need to force the issue with Ryle's defense and help open up the running game. If the defense can come up with a couple of early stops, the Shamrocks chances go way up. Michael Arena is a force up front and will to lead a charge to slow the Raiders' potent rushing attack.
FINAL TAKE: Expect the Raiders to come out throwing punches and to make things interesting early. However, in the end depth will be a factor. Despite playing Highlands twice though Ryle has not faced the gauntlet that Trinity has and in the end the Shamrocks experience and depth will be too much as they win going away…TRINITY 42, RYLE 27
Written by: Dan Clasgens, TriStateFootball.com