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The Ravenwood Raptors are close to returning to Cookeville for the first time since 2015. 

That trip was serendipitous for Ravenwood, as it brought them their second-ever state title. 

Will they get a chance at a third? 

The Raptors return home this Friday to face an unbeaten Houston outfit. For a team that's often the test for other opponents, it'll be one of the first times this year Ravenwood gets a major test themselves. 

It's hard to say how this one will go, if only because neither of the teams have any overlap. 

The deeper you get into the playoffs, the more mysterious the matchups become. 

You look back to Ravenwood's game with Arkansas powerhouse Pulaski Academy way back in September, when the team faced the gimmicky "never punt, never kick, unless it's onsides" team that's known to steamroll opponents with 60-70 point performances on offense. 

Like everyone else who plays them, the Raptors took their time to get adjusted and took some rare lumps on defense. But eventually a spark play here and there sorted things out. 

Ravenwood will need its adjustment period with Houston. Scoring early and often would help establish a good pace, as would maybe forcing an early turnover. Keeping your opponent rattled is the key when hosting a playoff game.

In a game where the teams are just about as good as each other, sometimes it's the one who punches first that makes the difference. 

Linebacker Jordan Smith has been a breath of fresh air for the Ravenwood defense since he returned from injury, and the team has been noticeably more stingy since he got back on the team. 

This defense didn't start out the year playing like it is now, and with the defenders living up to their potential, who knows where the ceiling is. 

Friday night's game calls for clear skies and a stable ground, too, which is major for Ravenwood, considering the bad luck with muddy conditions the last two home games that have caused Ravenwood to go without playing in the friendly confines since mid-October. 

But state is on the line this week, and you can bet that having a home crowd to cheer them on (and no long road trip the day after Thanksgiving) will certainly work wonders. 

It feels like Ravenwood might avenge their semifinals loss to Whitehaven last year. This Raptors team feels like it could go the distance. 

PREDICTION: Ravenwood 38, Houston 35 

It helps to have a kicker like Luke Akers, and we'll guess the Raptors boot one in at the last second to ensure they're Cookeville-bound.

Expect a nail-biter throughout, and watch the senior-heavy Ravenwood get it done to face the winner of Oakland/Maryville. 

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