The Ryle Raiders entered the 2009 season with high hopes. The team featured a nice mix of senior leadership and young talent. They finished the year 8-4 with their only four losses coming to 5A state champion Highlands (twice), defending 6A state runner-up Simon Kenton and eventual 6A state champion Louisville St. Xavier.
The team was hoping for a slightly better outcome this season, but there's no doubting that the future is bright in Union.
Let's take a game-by-game look at Ryle's 2009 campaign:
GAME #1 - RYLE 34, COVINGTON CATHOLIC 14
On the first play of the season, Raiders' sophomore running back Travis Elliott busted through the seam and scampered 80 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders never looked back as they cruised to a 34-14 victory. It was just a start of a big night for Elliott, who finished with 27 carries for 238 yards and two scores. Kiefer Eubanks added two scores of his own, a 54-yard run at the end of the third quarter and 30-yard late in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
GAME #2 - HIGHLANDS 37, RYLE 14
Ryle gave the home crowd something to cheer about early, taking the early lead as they marched 90 yards on their opening drive, eating up seven minutes off the clock and grabbing a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Elliott. However, the Bluebirds would rattle off 20 unanswered points and get four touchdowns from star running back Austin Collinsworth to pull away and hand the Raiders their first loss of the season.
GAME #3 - RYLE 45, NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC 0
Junior quarterback Conner Hempel tossed four touchdown passes, including two to senior wide receiver Trenton Fugate and the Raiders' defense pitched a shutout as Ryle picked up its second win of the season in convincing fashion. They finished with 239 rushing yards on 42 carries to NewCath's 94 yards on 30 carries. The Raiders racked up 415 yards of total offense while NewCath managed only 126 yards.
GAME #4 - RYLE 42, DIXIE HEIGHTS 28
The Raiders used a balanced attack of on offense and key turnovers by their defense to knock off the Colonels. Ryle finished with 242 yards rushing and 224 yards passing for a 466 total. Elliot scored four times, including three in the second half, and finished with 146 yards on 28 carries. It was a big for the Raiders before opening up district play.
GAME #5 - RYLE 56, COOPER 13
Ryle raced out a 42-7 first-half lead and never looked back, cruising to their first district win of the season. Elliott and Eubanks each found paydirt twice on the ground and Hempel, who completed a 12 of his 16 passes for 171 yards, threw a pair of touchdowns to pace the Raiders.
GAME #6 -RYLE 62, CAMPBELL COUNTY 19
The game was a memorable one for head coach Bryson Warner. He left the game shortly after halftime to be with his wife Amanda, who was delivering the couple's first baby boy. The game was well in hand before Warner left his team, with the Raiders up 48-13 at the half. Hempel had a big night, throwing for 241 yards and three scores on 10 of 13 passing. Fugate pulled in four balls for 132 yards and two touchdowns and the Thunder and Lightning duo of Elliott and Eubanks combined for 237 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
GAME #7 - SIMON KENTON 49, RYLE 29
Mother Nature showed itself on a cold and rainy Thursday night in Independence with the district title on the line. The game was televised by FOX Sports Ohio, leaving many fans to stay home rather than bear the conditions. Pioneers' running back Miles Simpson stole the spotlight, running for 275 yards and scoring four touchdowns as he became the school's all-time leading rusher. Ryle found themselves down 42-7 after three quarters, but did not give up as they scored 22 points in the game's final 12 minutes on three Eubanks' touchdowns.
GAME #8 - RYLE 31, CONNER 22
The Raiders dominated most of the game and led 31-7 with just two minutes left in the contest before the Cougars put up 15 late points. In the end, Ryle would prevail and secure to the district's second seed and a home playoff game. Neither defense was able to slow down the other teams' offense as Ryle outgained Conner with 457 total yards to 387. Elliot finished the game with 34 carries for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
GAME #9 - RYLE 48, BOONE COUNTY 7
The FOX19 Friday Prep Rally made its way to Ryle for a match-up between bitter county rivals. Before the game the seniors were recognized on the field for their career accomplishments. After the game they were celebrating their first-ever victory over Boone County. Ryle dominated in all aspects game and won for just the second time in eight tries. Elliott made the most of his limited carries as he rushed for 147 yards and a pair of scores on just 10 attempts. Hempel finished the night completing 10 of 15 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns despite sitting for a large chunk of the second half.
GAME #10 - HIGHLANDS 31, RYLE 14
For the second time this season the Bluebirds handled the Raiders with ease. Elliott was held under 100 yards for the first time all season, finishing with 62 yards on 18 carries. He did score on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. Highlands' senior running back Tyler Fennell caused havoc for Ryle, finishing with 214 rushing yards.
GAME #11 - RYLE 52, LOUISVILLE PRP 22
Defense and special teams played a big hand in leading Ryle to a first-round playoff win at home. Sophomore Ryan Smith set up the Raiders' first touchdown with an interception. Ryle also scored after recovering fumbles on a kickoff and a quarterback sack. The Raiders finished with 176 yards on the ground, including 76 yards and three scores from Elliott, and enjoyed 176 passing yards and a pair of TD passes from Hempel as they moved on.
GAME #12 - LOUISVILLE ST. XAVIER 66, RYLE 17
The Raiders saw their 2009 season come to an end in Louisville as they fell to St. Xavier, the eventual state champs. Ryle jumped out to a 10-7 early in the second quarter before allowing the Tigers to roll off 52 unanswered points to put the game away. Elliott had in hand in both Raiders' touchdowns, rushing for the team's first score on a 1-yard run. Later he connected with Trenton Fugate for a 24-yard touchdown pass. St.X ran at will, finishing with 243 yards on the ground in the victory.
MILESTONES AND MORE:
--The Raiders averaged 37 points per contest this season and were particularly tough in district play, outscoring their opponents 45-22 on average.
--The team's 8-4 finish is the best record posted at Ryle since their state championship runner-up season in 2006.
--Senior tight end Tate Nichols, a Stanford commit, was named Honorable Mention All-State by the Associated Press.
--Only Bellevue's Ricky Buckler and Simon Kenton's Simpson scored more time on the ground than Elliott, who finished his sophomore season with 23 rushing touchdowns.
--Hempel ended the regular season as one of Northern Kentucky's top five passers, throwing for 1,894 yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also ran for 263 yards and two scores.
--Fugate wound up as Northern Kentucky's leading wideout, posting 779 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
--Senior place kicker Erik Pederson's 21 touchbacks on kickoffs were also tops this season in Northern Kentucky.
--The following players were all recognized by the Northern Kentucky Association of Coaches by being named to the All-NKAC Division I: Offense - Hempel (QB), Elliott (RB), Fugate (WR), Nichols (TE), Deion Mullens (FB); Defense - Tanner Teepen (DL), Court Mace (LB), Logan Carney (DB), Logan Hollman (DB);
**The Ryle Raiders have been nominated as one of six finalists for QueenCityHigh.com's Northern Kentucky Team of the Year. The award will be handed at our Northern Kentucky Year In Review show at Longneck's Sports Grill in Wilder on Wednesday, January 13. The event is open to the public. Please stay tuned to TriStateFootball.com for further details.**