High School Sports

Birdville seeking payback against Denton Ryan in battle of unbeatens with stars abound

Birdville wide receiver Hosea Armstrong (7) and Dylan Graffis (14) celebrate after Armstrong’s 24 yard touchdown reception against Grapevine during the first half, Friday night, October 5, 2018 played at Buddy Echols Field in Coppell, TX.
Birdville wide receiver Hosea Armstrong (7) and Dylan Graffis (14) celebrate after Armstrong’s 24 yard touchdown reception against Grapevine during the first half, Friday night, October 5, 2018 played at Buddy Echols Field in Coppell, TX. Special to the Star-Telegram

Denton Ryan didn’t give Birdville a chance during a 49-6 win during the second round of last year’s Class 5A Division I playoffs, on its way to the state semifinals for the second-straight year.

The Hawks finished 5-7, which was their third consecutive non-winning season.

But this year’s Birdville team is much different than that one.

Much, much different.

A 9-0 start has the Hawks in position to win their first district title since 2012, but Ryan also enters Week 11 unbeaten as the two square of 7 p.m. Thursday from C.H. Collins Complex for bragging rights in District 4-5A Division I.

“We’re excited and blessed to be in this position,” said Birdville coach Lon Holbrook, who’s been with the team since 2000 and the head coach since 2016. “The kids have done a really good job week to week and have kept up that intensity. I always talk about hitting the reset button on Saturday and starting over and they’ve done that all season long.”

Birdville, which is coming off a 51-24 win over Colleyville Heritage in Week 10, has its first 9-0 start since going to the state quarterfinals six years ago. The Hawks are averaging 44 points per game.

“It’s the biggest game of the year,” junior defensive back/wide receiver Hosea Armstrong said. “I said this team was going to shock the world and look at us now.”

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Colleyville Heritage wide receiver Jacob Fex (4) tries to break free from Birdville defensive back Hosea Armstrong (4) during the first half, Friday night, November 2, 2018 played at Birdville ISD Fine Arts Athletics Complex in N. Richand Hills, TX Steve Nurenberg Special to the Star-Telegram

Ryan, which is the state’s No. 3 ranked team in Class 5A, has been one the best teams over the past four seasons. Including this year, the Raiders have gone 50-3 in the span.

“It’s a large task at hand and we’re glad we have this chance,” Holbrook said. “We’re playing with confidence.”

The Hawks, who allow 17 points per game, must stop a Ryan squad that has scored 424 points this year. Quarterbacks Seth and Ian Henigan have combined for 1,500 yards passing and 16 TDs while the Raiders have scored 28 TDs on the ground.

“We’re going to have to be on our A-game and be focused, and do what we’ve been doing all year long,” said Armstrong, who has a team-high five INTs. “We have to play our best football – we have the ability to win.”

“They’re big up front and do a great job getting the ball to the perimeter. They can run multiple formations and are a physical football team,” Holbrook added. “We have to match their physicality and get some stops, and play Birdville football.”

Birdville’s offense has put up some points too. It has hit 49 or more points six times.

It starts in the back-field with juniors Stone Earle and Laderrious Mixon. Earle, who threw for 306 yards against Heritage, is up to 1,900 yards and 24 TDs. Mixon started the season with 700 yards rushing and nine TDs through the first five games. In his previous four games, he’s rushed for 700 yards and 10 TDs.

Birdville loves to share the ball too as seven different receivers have caught a TD pass led by Mixon’s six.

“We’re seeing things more clear and execute better week by week,” Holbrook said. “We’ve progressed and taken care of those little tweaks. Everyone is doing their jobs and it starts with the offensive line. Like Laderrious says, it’s all about them, and he and Stone are reaping in the numbers because of it.”

Nick Martinez leads the team with 87 tackles and four fumble recoveries. Andrew Kopenec has registered six sacks.

“Overall, it’s a fun group to watch,” Holbrook said.

While the Hawks have scored with the best of them, they have to make sure they don’t turn the ball over. If they do, the Raiders have a high chance of returning one for a score.

Ryan has 21 takeaways and has scored 10 defensive TDs.

Stone Earle
Birdville quarterback Stone Earle, Oct. 26, 2017, against Fort Worth Dunbar. Bob Booth Special to the Star-Telegram

Drew Sanders, who’s committed to Oklahoma, can play on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-5 junior has 75 tackles, three sacks, one interception and has accounted for nine TDs on offense.

“We can’t turn the ball over – that’s football 101,” Holbrook said. “We have to string some drives, score points and make some stops.

“It’s always special to bring home those gold footballs and district titles. We try to get better every week, sharpen our axe and work on the little details. We’re excited for Thursday night.”

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