The Ryle Raiders picked up their 11th straight victory and their second of the season against the Simon Kenton Pioneers as they pulled pass their district foes 35-14 to advance to the Kentucky' Class 6A state semi-finals.
Ryle (12-1) won the earlier meeting between the two schools 38-35. Early on in this matchup it appeared as if another barnburner was in store, but the Raiders dominated the second half of play and scored 21 unanswered points to go along with some stellar defense to win going away.
Junior running back Travis Elliott rushed for 191 yards and five touchdowns on 21 carries. Quarterback Conner Hempel picked up several big runs as he finished with 88 yards on 14 carries and Deion Mullens added 50 more on 10 carries. When the dust settled the Raiders outgained Simon Kenton on the ground with 321 to 100 yards. That led to Ryle holding over a 12-minute advantage in time of possession and proved to be the difference in the ball game.
"I think it was our blocking scheme up front our line just physically manhandled them and pushed them forward," Elliott claimed. "We were getting just three, four, five yards a pop and then were able to break a big one."
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After both teams went three-and-out on their initial possessions of the evening, the Raiders got on the board first when Elliott ran for a 10-yard touchdown with 6:15 to go in the first quarter.
Simon Kenton (10-3) answered on the following possession. Chad Lawrence and the Pioneers put together a five-minute scoring drive which ended with Lawrence calling his own number for a 1-yard touchdown run to knot the game at 7-7.
It appeared as if the Pioneers were going to stop Ryle on their next drive, but the Raiders opted to go for a fake punt on 4th-and-9 from Simon Kenton's 39-yard line and converted as Hempel, who also serves as the team's punter, connected with Mullens on a pass to pick up the first down. Elliott made it 14-7 when he found the end zone from 12 yards out.
Lawrence would lead Simon Kenton right back down the field to knot the game up once again. Zach Carroll pulled in a 13-yard pass for a touchdown with 5:45 left in the half.
Pioneers' head coach Jeff Marksberry tried some trickery of his own on the ensuing kickoff as they tried an onside kick and were able to recover it. However, the Raider returner did signal for a fair catch and the refs flagged Simon Kenton for a fair-catch interference penalty. Rather than having the ball, the Pioneers were pushed back 15 yards and then proceeded to kick it out of bounds and were penalized again.
That gave the Raiders a short field to work with. After Mullens picked up a couple tough third-down runs, Hempel kept it for 26 yards and got to the Simon Kenton 3-yard line. One play later Elliott scored from three yards out for his third touchdown of the game.
Simon Kenton would drive the field in the final two minutes of the half only to turn it over as Ryan Smith picked off Lawrence pass in the end zone as Ryle took a 21-14 lead into the locker room.
The Raiders would come with another turnover to start the second half when Lawrence once again was intercepted in the end zone, this time by Luke Boggs. Ryle added to the lead shortly thereafter as Elliott came up with a longest scoring run of the game on a 52-yard scamper.
After a three-and-out by the Pioneers, the Raiders would put the game away on their next drive as they held the ball for over 10 minutes before punting. Despite not putting points on the board, Ryle was able to take a ton of time off the clock and put pressure right back on Simon Kenton.
Following a turnover-on-downs by the Pioneers, Elliott would add a fifth touchdown on a 4-yard run in the game's final two minutes as the Raiders pulled away to beat their district foes for the second straight time.
"Actually it has been great playing against Simon they've made us better," Ryle coach Bryson Warner said. "They've really built themselves as a program. Our district is strong it prepares everybody for the playoffs."
Lawrence finished his three-year reign as the Pioneers' starting quarterback by completing 22 of 37 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He added 67 yards and a score on the ground on 12 carries. He went 28-6 as a starter during his career. Classmate Ryan Winkler led all receivers with seven catches for 104 yards in the loss.
With the win Ryle is now set to face Louisville powerhouse Trinity next Friday night in Union in a state semi-final matchup. It marks the fourth straight home playoff game for the Raiders.
"Our guys believe we can have success. We just got come out and compete on every given play," Warner said of next week's opponent. "We've got a great group of senior and we are going to compete at a high level. We are very excited about the opportunity."
Elliott appeared more than confident that he and his teammates will be ready for the challenge.
"We just got to keep doing what we are doing and come out and practice and eliminate as many mistakes as we can," the junior state. "I feel pretty good about the game because we got home-field advantage and have our community and our town behind us so hopefully we can get the job done."