5A Division I UIL State Championship Preview: Cedar Park Timberwolves vs. Denton Ryan Raiders

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5A Division I: Cedar Park Timberwolves (14-0) vs. Denton Ryan Raiders (14-0) 

of the Tape: Denton Ryan came agonizingly close to its first state title since 2002 last year, but the Raiders couldn’t complete their Hail Mary attempt in a narrow 28-22 defeat to Shadow Creek. If they want to earn that state title, they will have to overcome a talented Cedar Park side. The Timberwolves reached their first three state title games in the 2010s, going 2-1 with their last appearance ending in a 22-6 victory over Frisco Lone Star in 2015. It will be an intriguing matchup as a Denton Ryan team full of offensive talent does battle with the renowned Cedar Park Black Rain defense.

Players to Watch: The Raiders have a wealth of talent offensively, especially when they go through the air. Quarterback Seth Henigan, a Memphis commit, leads the offense from behind center with 3,558 yards and 38 touchdowns on the season. He also has two talented receivers at his disposal in speedy Oklahoma commit Billy Bowman Jr., 1,144 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on the season, and big Texas commit Ja’Tavion Sanders, 1079 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. “These guys have all played together for a long time. Ja’Tavion and Seth since 6th grade. Billy and Seth since 8th grade,” Denton Ryan head coach Dave Henigan said. “All three have been on the varsity for three years. They have great chemistry. That’s a big a key as anything.” When it needs to run the ball, look for Hicks brothers to be a talented tandem out of the backfield as senior Ke’Ori, 816 yards, and sophomore Kalib, 751 yards, are the two leading rushers for the Raider offense. Defensively, Sanders and defensive tackle Bear Alexander have proven to be disruptive forces up front that the Timberwolves will have to deal with. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. is another key playmaker for Ryan, and he is joined in the linebacking corps by senior Rice commit DJ Arkansas, who returned a fumble for a touchdown in the semifinal win over Mansfield Summit.

The Timberwolves have a savvy quarterback of their own in three-year starter Ryder Hernandez. Hernandez has thrown for 4,240 yards and a remarkable 58 touchdowns to just two interceptions, a stat that Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck described as “unbelievable.” Hernandez’s performances behind center have helped fuel a Cedar Park offense that has averaged 54 points per game this year. “Ryder has had a tremendous year and as a third year starter he has met our big expectations for him and exceeded them.  His leadership, decision making, and knowledge of what we want to do offensively has probably been what has been most impressive,” Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck said. “He is a fantastic athlete, great arm, very accurate and can elongate plays to allow his multiple receivers to get open and make plays.  He has done a great job of taking what the defense is giving us, completing right at 70% of his passes.” Ryan will have to keep watch on a trio of senior Cedar Park receivers that have had a big season for the Timberwolves. Josh Cameron is Cedar Park’s career leader in receptions and has 1,169 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns this year and is joined by coach’s son Gunnar Abseck, 1,012 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, and Jack Hestera, 979 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns this season. On the other side of the ball, the Black Rain defense will pose a challenge for Ryan’s high-powered offense. Linebacker Shelby Battles has made over 130 tackles on the year and anchors the team as a defensive captain. Up front, Hunter Hewitt and Ian Ferguson each have over ten sacks this season, while Murray Robinson has amassed nearly 30 tackles for loss. With this amount of talent up front, it is evident that the Ryan offensive line will have their work cut out for them on Friday evening.

With Hernandez and the Cedar Park offense putting up ridiculous numbers and Ryan’s trio of Division I athletes in its passing game, this game looks like it could come down to the very end as both teams will aim to add another state title to their trophy cabinets.

Who will win? Denton Ryan vs Cedar Park

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