2019 TSSAA Class 6A Semifinals

Playoff Football: Ravenwood readies to host unbeaten Houston in semifinals

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Playoff Football – Ravenwood at Brentwood, Class 6A Semifinals

Brian Garcia 

Despite technically “hosting” two of their last four games, the Ravenwood football team hasn’t played on their home football field due to weather and field conditions since Oct. 25.

On Friday, there’s no Plan B – like before senior night when they moved to Nolensville High School’s turf field to beat Independence, or in the first round of the TSSAA Playoffs when they crossed Interstate 65 to play on Franklin’s turf field and defeat Stewarts Creek. The Raptors grass field has been covered with tarps and cared for as if it was the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving Day.

Ravenwood will officially host a state semifinal – finally – and play for a BlueCross Bowl state championship berth.

“We have missed out, so the fact that we have another home game, well, that’s just awesome,” Ravenwood senior Gabriel Sleenhof said.

Ravenwood coach Matt Daniels said he walked the field Tuesday and it’s “the driest it’s been in weeks.”

“We’re ready,” Daniels said. “It’s looking good for Friday.”

Ravenwood, which boasts a 12-1 record, will get a visit from a standout running back and an unbeaten Houston (13-0) team Friday. Daniels said his team will take from experiences in battling Cane Ridge and then-standout Devon Starling, while just continuing to fly to the football and being good tacklers.

“You just have to play as gap sound as possible,” Daniels said. “If there is any cut back lane, anything like that, they will find the crack and make you pay.”

That “they” is actually a “him.”

Senior Lincoln Pare, a 5-9, 190-pounder, leads the Houston offense and is averaging 203.9 yards rushing per game. The Mr. Football finalist has 2,651 yards on the ground and 37 total touchdowns this season. The Under-18 Team USA rugby player averages 8.5 yards per carry on 312 totes in the 13 wins.

Houston was playing in their first quarterfinal in 15 years last week against Whitehaven. Pare was held to his lowest output of the year – 30 carries for 129 yards and a pair of TDs. Whitehaven, which beat Ravenwood in the semis last season, had allowed 39 points all season and then gave up 27 against Houston. Mustang quarterback Ethan Burns completed 18-of-32 passes for 304 yards and two scores to torch the Tigers and lead Houston to a 27-6 victory.

The senior QB has thrown for 2,031 yards, 29 touchdowns and has just three interceptions. Senior Grayson Hitt, a 6-3 wideout, leads the Mustangs receiving corps with 45 catches for 940 yards and 16 TDs.

“I think it’s just going to be an awesome challenge for our defense,” Daniels said. “The thing we are hoping for is that they haven’t played as balanced of a football team as us.”

Ravenwood won the last meeting in the 2016 first round – a 45-14 victory in Brentwood. The Raptors are hosting a semifinal for the third time in school history.

Ravenwood quarterback Brian Garcia has elevated his game in the playoffs and leads the Raptor offense.

The senior has thrown for eight touchdowns and rushed for two more in three postseason wins. He has completed 40-of-60 passes for 738 yards with just one interception in the three-game span. He eclipsed the 2,500 yards passing mark in last week’s 34-6 win at Brentwood. Big 6-foot-6 tight end Jake Briningstool collected four receptions for 104 yards and two scores in that win over the Bruins.

The Raptors defense, which has allowed just six points in three postseason games, has been bolstered over the last month-and-a-half with the return or senior linebacker Jordan Smith. Smith hurt his back in the season opener and missed the next five games, but his 70 tackles are fourth on the team. Ravenwood forced three turnovers at Brentwood and has come away with 10 total turnovers in the three playoff contests combined.

The Raptors are also expecting to have senior running back Tony Rice back from an ankle injury suffered in the second round at Cane Ridge.

“Houston reminds us of us in a way, kind of a run-heavy version,” Daniels said. “They are a similar community and a similar school in regards to academics.

“I think it’s going to be a really fun matchup.”

On the other side of the bracket, Maryville is facing Oakland for the sixth consecutive time in the state semifinals. Oakland won last year, but fell in three of the previous four matchups. 

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