STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTOS BY MATT MASTERS
The Ravenwood Raptors are officially a problem.
With nationwide interest placed on this year’s football program, the Raptors lived up to the preseason press clippings and then some following a 49-21 rout of the Centennial Cougars in the 2019 season and home opener Friday evening at Ravenwood High School.
Senior quarterback Brian Garcia torched the Cougars for three touchdown passes and running in another. Andrew Mason scored two touchdowns—one each in the air and on the ground—in compiling more than 200 all-purpose yards.
“I’ve never seen a crowd response like the one we had tonight,” Ravenwood head coach Matt Daniels said of Friday’s home opener. “If we keep playing this well, we can expect an even greater supporting system and a lot of national attention.”
The Raptors fell just one game short of playing in the Class 6A finals last season, though retaining much of the supporting cast heading into this season. The addition of All-American Top 50 prospect Reggie Grimes II prompted experts to peg Ravenwood as a preseason favorite to win their district and make a deep run in this year’s postseason.
“There’s some stuff we have to brush up on,” acknowledged Grimes, a 6’5”, 250-pound defensive end who transferred from Mt. Juliet High School after his junior season, which briefly caused concern with eligibility issues before being resolved preseason. “For me, it felt good to be able to play football after all the drama that happened in the offseason.
“That weight is off my shoulder, and it felt great to play my first game with this team.”
It felt even better for the Raptors to make a statement in its first play from scrimmage—and one that went exactly as designed. Garcia found Mason wide open at midfield, throwing a perfect strike to the senior wideout who raced to the house for an 80-yard touchdown reception to give the Raptors a 7-0 lead just 0:15 into the game.
“We know it was going to me on the first play,” an overjoyed and humbled Mason told Home Page. “I was envisioning it all day, and I admit I was a little nervous. But I’m just glad we pulled it off.”
Added Garcia: “Man, we had that play drawn up since Wednesday. I liked what I saw coverage-wise and once Andrew gets going, it’s hard to catch up to him.”
It provided the necessary breathing room for Ravenwood, while forcing Centennial to fight an uphill battle before their first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, the Cougars were right back on the defensive, with Mason returning a midfield punt 36 yards to shorten the field for Ravenwood’s next score.
That moment would come less than two minutes into the game, with Mason finding the end zone for the second time of the night. It came on a 9-yard run, capping a 25-yard drive which began with Garcia completing a 12-yard strike to Ross Johnston.
Centennial’s offense wouldn’t get untracked until the second half, producing negative yardage through its first three drives while Ravenwood couldn’t stop scoring on the other end. A two-yard quarterback keeper by Garcia gave the Raptors a 21-0 after just 6:30 of play. It would extend to 28 less than two minutes into the 2nd quarter, courtesy of a 29-yard run by Tony Rice.
The shutout finally ended when senior quarterback Grayson Marcel found Eli Cornett on a 20-yard strike to put the Cougars on the board. The lead extended right back to 28 when Garcia connected with Ross Johnston on an 11-yard touchdown pass, just two plays after the same combo had one negated due to a false start.
Garcia’s found his third touchdown target of the night, on the first drive of the second half. It landed in the hands of Connor Pace to give Ravenwood a 41-7 lead less than two minutes into the 3rd quarter.
“Just every spot you look, there’s a really good player,” Garcia noted of the talent by which he’s surrounded. “It makes my job a lot easier. I just give the ball to them and let them do their thing. We got a lot of good guys and this was a really good win tonight.”
Assisting in the cause is a standout defense. The addition of Grimes—who will remain uncommitted to a college program until the end of the season—only strengthens an already nightmare matchup for opposing schools.
Still, there remains room for improvement. Centennial was able to capitalize on the Raptors’ complacency after darting out to a 41-7 lead. Some of the air was let out of their balloon after losing Garcia for the night when a sidelines hit on a broken play left him with discomfort around his lower abdomen.
“I was trying to get out of bounds and a helmet connected pretty good on my stomach,” revealed Garcia, who wouldn’t play another snap on the night but is fully expected to start next week on the road versus Blackman. “It knocked the wind out of me but I’m OK.”
The Cougars did their best to capitalize on the momentum shift, outscoring Ravenwood 21-7 down the stretch. By then, most of the starters were done for the evening although the team as a whole would’ve preferred a stronger finish.
“We started out strong, but the difference between really good local teams and those who deserve to be looked at as among the best in the nation find a way to finish,” insisted Daniels, whose Raptors’ squad survived numerous gut checks throughout an incredible run in 2018. “We have to do a better job of closing the show, beginning with next week’s game on the road.”
Friday’s win is now in the rearview mirror, certainly cause for celebration as a brilliant start to the season—but by Monday will come a new order of business.
As Centennial (0-1) heads home for a non-conference game versus Smyrna (0-1), the Raptors travel to Murfreesboro for a dangerous road game versus the Blackman Blaze.
“We can celebrate this for the next 24 hours but then we have to start getting ready for Blackman,” points out Garcia. “That’s a good team. We know we have a chance to be a great team this season, the extra attention we’re getting is a nice accolade.
“But the only way to get there is to take it one game at a time. We did great to start but can do a lot better.”
That’s a scary proposition for opposing teams this season.