The 2010 season is in the books and we continue to look back at our Team of the Year nominees by examining the fantastic run made by the Ryle Raiders in Kentucky Class 6A. Ryle finished the season with a 12-2 record and an appearance in the state semi-finals were it lost to eventual 6A state champion Trinity. This was the deepest playoff run for Ryle since it lost in the 2006 state championship game versus the Shamrocks.
The Raiders got off to a 1-1 start before rattling off 11 straight wins. In the final regular season game, Ryle defeated Highlands at Borland Stadium to snap the Bluebirds' 37-game winning streak. The Raiders also had a perfect 7-0 record versus district opponents, including two each against Simon Kenton and Campbell County. For the sixth time since 1999, the Raiders saw its season come to an end at the hands of the Trinity Shamrocks.
Junior running back Travis Elliott and senior quarterback Conner Hempel led the way on offense while senior linebacker Court Mace, the fourth Mace brother to play that position at Ryle, manned the middle of the defense.
Here is a game-by-game recap of Ryle's 2010 season:
GAME #1 - RYLE 61, COVINGTON CATHOLIC 7: The Raiders started the season in the Crosstown Showdown at Nippert Stadium versus Covington Catholic. Trailing 7-6 in the second quarter, Hempel scored on a 1-yard sneak and Elliott scored his second touchdown of the game from the three-yard line to take a 19-7 halftime lead. In the second half, Ryle took over and dominated the game. Elliott scored two more rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, one from 62 yards and the other a 57-yarder, to extend the lead to 33-7. Deion Mullens, who rushed for 118 yards on just nine carries, scored in the third quarter from the six-yard line and then had a one-yard plunge in the fourth to balloon the lead to 47-7. Jake Nutter returned a pick-six interception 52 yards and Tanner Pulice ran in a 61-yard touchdown to finish up the lopsided scoring ledger. Hempel was the third 100-yard rusher of the game with 151 yards on 15 rushes. As a team, Ryle rushed for an incredible 583 yards while the defense only gave 179 total yards and forced four turnovers.
GAME #2 - HIGHLANDS 29, RYLE 14: The Bluebirds hosted the Ryle Raiders in the first game of a season home-and-home series. Senior Brian Gall got Highlands on the board first with a 13-yard touchdown run with three-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter. Ryle countered to tie the score 7-7 when Hempel connected with Caleb Lonkard on a 25-yard pass play for a score in the closing seconds of the opening quarter. The Raiders took the lead 14-7 when Elliott found pay dirt from the two-yard line. Highlands almost tied the score on the final play before halftime when Patrick Towles threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Gold, but the extra point attempt failed to make the halftime score 14-13 in favor of Ryle. The second half belonged to Highlands. Corey Compton, who rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries, scored a pair of third quarter rushing touchdowns and Adam Weinel kicked a 31-yard field goal in the fourth as the 'Birds went on to win it 29-14. Elliott was the game's leading rusher with 151 yards on just 13 carries. The Raider's defense forced three interceptions, including two by Zach Senvisky.
GAME #3 - RYLE 27, NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC 7: Ryle's home opener was against the 3-0 Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds. The Raiders received the opening kickoff and marched down field on a six-play, 71-yard drive in less than two minutes, taking a 7-0 lead on Hempel's 16-yard touchdown pass to Luke Boggs. On the ensuing New Cath drive, Ryle's Winston Field forced a Chris Kelly fumble and Boggs recovered it on the Breds' 24-yard line. Four plays later, Elliott ran 16 yards for a touchdown to push the Raider lead to 14-0. Kelly redeemed himself on the next New Cath drive by putting the Breds' on the board with an 11-yard touchdown run to cut the Raider lead to 14-7 with just over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter. In the second quarter, a Mace interception started a 17-play scoring drive that included three fourth-down conversions. Elliott finished the drive off with a 13-yard scoring run to make the score 21-7. The junior running back rushed for 146 yards on 29 carries, scoring the final of his three rushing touchdowns in the third quarter with a 1-yard plunge to push the Raider lead to the eventual final score 27-7. The Ryle offense outgained New Cath 249-207 in total offensive yards but the true domination was in the Raiders 27-7 advantage in first downs.
GAME #4 - RYLE 20, DIXIE 7: Ryle hosted Dixie Heights for homecoming and it quickly became the Travis Elliott show. Elliott scored a pair of first quarter touchdowns, one from 32 yards and the other from 59 yards, as the Raiders took an early 13-0 lead. The junior running back had 189 first half rushing yards, and should have had more as a 77-yard rushing touchdown was called back on a holding penalty. The score remained 13-0 in the fourth quarter when Dixie quarterback Zeke Pike scored on a six-yard touchdown run to shave the Ryle lead to 13-7. The Colonels had the ball in the closing minutes with a chance to tie the game or go ahead. On fourth-and-10 with 1:56 remaining in the game, Pike dropped back to pass and with two defenders hanging on him, threw an interception to Elliott who returned it 45 yards for a game saving touchdown. After Garret Mead nailed the extra point the Raiders had 20-7 advantage. Pike, who finished the game with 165 yards rushing and 145 yards passing, had one last chance but the Ryle defense stepped up again to end any comeback attempt and secure the 20-7 victory. Elliott finished with 215 yards on 19 carries two rushing scores as the Raiders' offense did not attempt a pass in the entire game.
GAME #5 - RYLE 28, COOPER 21: The Raiders traveled across town for its first district game of the season at Cooper. Ryle found themselves in a dog fight against the upstart Jaguars. This game was a matchup between two of the area's best running backs, Elliott and D'Vontae Bradley of Cooper. The Jaguars took an early 7-0 lead on a Bradley touchdown run but Ryle's Lonkard returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the house and tied the score 7-7. Bradley, who was the game's leading rusher with 181 yards on 32 carries, scored on a second touchdown run to tie the score 14-14 at halftime. Bradley had a great all-around game as he completed the longest pass play of the game when he threw a 66-yard completion to A.J. Branch. The Raiders averted the upset when Hempel scored on a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 21-21 to ultimately beat Cooper 28-21. Hempel finished with 73 yards rushing and 105 yard passing. Elliott carried the ball 25 times for 85 yards and one rushing touchdown. Mullens chipped in with a rushing touchdown of his own and Mace racked up 12 tackles.
GAME #6 - RYLE 35, CAMPBELL COUNTY 30: Ryle wanted to get off to a fast start against Campbell County, so head coach Bryson Warner put Elliott back deep to field the opening kickoff. It was the first time all season that Elliott would return a kickoff and the Camels did not recognize the change. Campbell kicked it right to Elliott and he ran it back 93 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. The Raiders took a 14-3 lead when Hempel, who rushed for 147 yards on the game, took a keeper 48 yards to the house. Elliott, who passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in front of the home crowd, extended the lead to 21-3 with a 28-yard touchdown scamper. Campbell scored with just 22 seconds left in the half on a Michael Kremer-to-Jake Rebholz pass play. The Camels thought by cutting the lead to 21-10, it had gained momentum going into the locker as it would receive the opening kickoff of the second half. However, Mullens only needed 10 of those seconds to erase that touchdown as he returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for the Raiders' second special team score of the game. Elliott, who rushed for 242 of Ryle's 406 yards on the ground, scored his second rushing touchdown late third quarter on an 86-yard run. With the score 35-17, Campbell made a frantic fourth quarter comeback using its no-huddle, spread-offense attack. The Camels scored two touchdowns to cut the Raider lead to 35-30 with just under four minutes to play in the game. With the Camels driving, Kremer threw an interception to Elliott, who fumbled the ball during the return on a bone-crushing hit by Campbell sophomore Tyler Durham. The Camels recovered the ball and Ryle's season was in jeopardy as Elliott staggered off the field with an apparent broken jaw and possible concussion. The Ryle defense bowed-up and forced another Kremer interception, this time by Tony Burtraw, to ice the game and Ryle survived with a 35-30 district win.
GAME #7 - RYLE 38, SIMON KENTON 35 - OT: The two teams favored to win the district, Ryle and Simon Kenton, squared off in Union at Borland Stadium. The true winner of this game was the fans who were treated to a back-and-forth overtime classic. After a scoreless first quarter, Simon Kenton got on the board just 90 seconds into the second quarter. Pioneer defensive back Zach Carroll intercepted a Hempel pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Simon Kenton head coach Jeff Marksberry then reached into his bag of tricks and called for an on-side kick that the Pioneers recovered. This led to a Cody Herald 19-yard field goal and a 10-0 SK lead. Ryle settled down and scored a pair of Hempel rushing touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead. In the closing seconds before halftime, Simon Kenton got a 39-yard field from Herald to cut the deficit to 14-13 going into the intermission. To start the third quarter, Pioneer quarterback Chad Lawrence threw a 30- yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Cody Welte, and Simon Kenton was back in front 21-14 after the two-point conversion. Hempel, who rushed for 119 yards, scored his third rushing touchdown with just over one minute to play in the third quarter to tie the score 21-21. Simon Kenton retook the lead 28-21 when Danny Wetter scored from five yards out. Elliott, who was injured the previous week against Campbell County, quickly answered with an 81-yard touchdown run and the scored was knotted again, this time 28-28. Lawrence got the lead back for Simon Kenton with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter with his second touchdown pass, this one to Matt Reilly. With the score 35-28, Elliott ran in a touchdown from the six-yard line and after Mead converted the extra point the score was tied 35-35 with 1:09 left in regulation. Elliott, who rushed for 163 yards on the game, scored both of his rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Simon Kenton got the ball first in overtime and Marksberry decided to gamble once again by going for it on fourth-and-10. Lawrence threw an interception in the end zone and the Pioneers came away without any points. Ryle in turn went for a 20-yard field goal by Mead and the Raiders win a nail-biter in overtime 38-35. This win by Ryle turned out to be the deciding game in route to winning the district title.
GAME #8 - RYLE 49, CONNER 6: After three consecutive game decided by a touchdown or less, Ryle traveled to Hebron and drilled the Conner Cougars. Elliott scored a rushing touchdown on the game's third play from scrimmage and the Raiders cruised to victory from that point. Elliott carried the ball just 17 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Ryle used more of an air attack than usual as Hempel went 17-for-23 passing for 162 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Lonkard and Mullens each chipped in with two touchdowns as the Raiders' offense outgained the Cougars 431-214.
GAME #9 - RYLE 42, BOONE COUNTY 21: Ryle wrapped a perfect district record with a big win over Boone County at Owen Hauck Stadium. After taking a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, Ryle gave up 21 second-quarter points to the Rebels but did lead 29-21 at halftime. Elliott rushed for 117 yards on 20 carries and four rushing touchdowns. Hempel had a very efficient passing game, going 10-for-15 with 105 yards passing and a touchdown completion to Jeff Huntley. Hempel also ran for 52 yards and a touchdown as Ryle improved to 8-1 on the season. During the game, Mace broke the school record for career tackles of 393 previously held by Mark Gray.
GAME #10 - RYLE 28, HIGHLANDS 26: The Ryle Raiders pulled off what many people think was the biggest upset of the year when it beat Highlands in a rematch from earlier in the season. The special Thursday night game was broadcasted on regional television and the viewers were treated to a great game. Highlands struck first when Daniel Gold returned the game's opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Highlands opted to go for a two-point conversion but Ryle was able to make the stop, holding the Birds to a 6-0 lead. Ryle's strategy was a power running game that would consume the clock and that is exactly what happened on its opening drive. Using nearly five minutes of game time, the Raiders scored on a two-yard run by Elliott, who finished the night with 95 yards rushing on 27 carries. After the extra point, Ryle to a 7-6 lead. Highland re-took the lead in the second quarter when quarterback Patrick Towles hit pay dirt with a seven-yard touchdown run. The Birds decided to chase after the points lost on the previously failed conversion by attempting another two-point conversion, but once again failed to convert and the score was 12-7 in favor of Highlands. Just before halftime, Ryle took the lead once again 14-12 when Hempel scored on a one-yard keeper. The senior quarterback scored on a pair of rushing plays in the second half, one from 30 yards in the third quarter and a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter to extend the Raiders' lead to 28-12 with 11:29 left in the game. Hempel led the Raiders' ground attack with 128 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Highlands went on a ferocious comeback in the final quarter starting when Corey Compton scored on a four-yard touchdown run and Towles converted the two-pointer to close the gap to 28-20. That was followed by a 40-yard touchdown pass by Towles to Eli Schultz and the score was 28-26 with 5:24 left in the game. Highlands went for the two-play conversion in order to tie the game. For the third time in four attempts, the Ryle defense stopped Towles short of the end zone to preserve the two-point lead. Ryle ran out the clock to preserve the 28-26 upset victory and snapped Highlands' 37-game winning streak. The Birds had not lost since September 5, 2008 when they were defeated at Colerain 33-18. Highlands had not lost to a Northern Kentucky school since 2006 when Covington Catholic won 29-27 in the second round of the playoffs. With its ninth victory of the season, Ryle set a program record for regular season wins.
GAME #11 - RYLE 54, MADISON CENTRAL 13: After the huge win against Highlands, the fear was that the Raiders' first round playoff matchup against Madison Central would have a hangover effect. As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Ryle scored six unanswered first half touchdowns en route to a 54-13 victory. Elliott needed just seven carries to reach 130 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, including a 63-yarder just before halftime. Mullens chipped in with a 53-yard rushing touchdown. Boggs had an interception and returned a punt for a touchdown. With the game out of hand early, it gave head coach Bryson Warmer a chance to rest his starters and give players who don't normally get much playing time an opportunity to shine. Ryan Smith, Kohry Thibodeau and Thomas Baumann each scored their first touchdown of the season.
GAME #12 - RYLE 38, CAMPBELL COUNTY 14: Ryle was matched up with district opponent Campbell County in its second round playoff game and a FOX19 Friday Prep Rally matchup. The Raiders let a big lead slip away during the regular season game versus the Camels but held on to win the game 35-30. Ryle decided to make a key defense adjustment to put heavy pressure on Campbell quarterback Michael Kremer by moving Elliott from linebacker to nose guard. The move could not have worked any better as the Ryle defensive unit forced four interceptions and seven sacks. The Ryle offense struck first on its opening possession as Hempel threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Thibodeau. Ryle forced a turnover on Campbell's very first possession when Zack Senvisky intercepted a Kremer pass and returned it 43 yards to the Camels' 23-yard line. The Raiders had to settle for a Mead 29-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. Elliott, who gashed the Camels' defense for 193 yards rushing, scored on a nine-yard run to give Ryle a 17-0 advantage at halftime. In the third quarter, Ryle poured it on with 14 more unanswered points starting with a Mullens 13-yard rushing touchdown and Lonkard 21-yard touchdown catch. Elliott would score his second touchdown on a 55-yard run and that was sandwiched in between a pair of Campbell scores. The Raiders would move on to the regional final game with a 38-14 victory. Hempel was 10-for-16 passing for 167 yards, Mullens gained a combined 110 yards and Thibodeau had a team-high five receptions for an offense that gained 527 yards. On defense, Senvisky tied a school record with three interceptions, while holding the Camels to just seven yards rushing on the game.
GAME #13 - RYLE 35, SIMON KENTON 14: Ryle won its 11th straight game by defeating Simon Kenton in the regional championship game at Borland Stadium. Elliott got the scoring started with a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Simon Kenton tied the score 7-7 when quarterback Chad Lawrence sneaked it in from the one-yard line. Elliott scored again on a touchdown run that was setup by a fake punt when Hempel completed a pass to Mullens on fourth-and-nine. The Pioneers came right back to tie the game once again as Lawrence threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Zach Carroll. On the ensuing kickoff, Simon Kenton head coach Jeff Marksberry called for an on-side-kick. The Pioneers did recover it, however it was ruled that a Ryle player called for a fair catch and Simon Kenton was flagged for a kick-catch interference penalty. After the penalty yards were marked off, Simon Kenton promptly kicked the ball out-of-bounds for another penalty. Ryle took advantage of the short field as Elliott scored his third touchdown of the half, this one from the three-yard line, and the Raiders took a 21-14 lead. Simon Kenton drove deep into Ryle territory in the closing minutes of the first half but Lawrence threw an interception to Ryan Smith in the end zone. The Pioneers got the ball first in the second half but Lawrence was picked off again in the end zone, this time by Boggs to end the scoring threat. On the ensuing drive Elliott, who finished the game with 195 yards on 21 carries, scored on a 52-yard touchdown scamper. Elliott would tally his fifth rushing touchdown of the game in the final minutes of the game to claim the victory and a spot in the state semi-final game versus Louisville Trinity. The Raiders outgained Simon Kenton 411-323 in total offense.
GAME #14 - TRINITY 28, RYLE 9: The Raiders hosted its fourth straight playoff game against Louisville Trinity with a spot in the 6A state championship at stake. The Shamrocks struck with a short pass by quarterback Travis Wright that wide receiver James Quick took 65 yards to the end zone on the first play from scrimmage. Mead put the Raiders on the board with 1:03 left in the first half with 31-yard field goal. The Trinity defense literally shut out the Ryle offense in the third quarter. The Shamrocks held the Raiders to zero yards and zero first downs in the entire quarter. Trinity drove 73 yards in nine plays with just over three minutes left in the third quarter when Derek Bishop ran 13 yards into the end zone to give the Shamrocks a 14-3 lead. Bishop and the offensive line took control of the fourth quarter as he rushed for 104 of his 170 yards on the game in the final period. Bishop scored two more rushing touchdowns including a 41-yarder to put the game out of reach. Hempel, who went 14-for-28 passing for 129 yards, scored on a late rushing play to give Ryle its only touchdown of the game. Elliott was held to just 85 yards rushing, 41 of it on one fourth quarter carry. Ryle has made the playoffs 11 times since 1999 and has been eliminated by Trinity six times.
MILESTONES AND MORE --Head coach Bryson Warner was named the 6A Coach of the Year by the Kentucky Football Coaches Association. Warner led the team to a program record nine regular season victories and tied the school record with 12 overall wins. Warner, who has been the head coach of the Raiders since the 2003 season, has a career record of 61-36.
--Travis Elliott was named the Kentucky Enquirer Player of the Year in Northern Kentucky. He finished the season with 2,215 yards on 283 carries, 7.8 yards per carry and 32 rushing touchdowns. The junior running back also scored on a receiving touchdown, an interception return and a kickoff return.
--Quarterback Conner Hempel proved to be a dual threat as he passed and rushed for over 1,000 yards. Hempel was the team's second leading rusher with 1,002 yards. He was 108-for-198 passing for 1,212 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
--The high powered Ryle offense averaged 34.1 points per game and 376.5 yards of total offense.
--Senior linebacker Court Mace, who led the team in tackles with 96, became the program's career leading tackler passing the mark previously held by Mark Gray.
--Ryle's defense gave up an average of 18.4 points per game and forced 21 interception as Zach Senvisky (7) and Luke Boggs (6) led the way.