Cedar Ridge’s drive to the Class 6A, Division I quarterfinals did not begin when the Raiders convened for preseason drills in sweltering August heat.
No, the seeds for a successful football season were planted last December. Two weeks after their unbeaten season crashed with a 40-34 overtime loss to Klein Collins in an area playoff, the Raiders went to work.
“We were going to do everything in our power to make sure that didn’t happen again,” senior quarterback Ezekiel Coss said Wednesday morning after a workout on a cold, soggy campus field. “Never again.”
Coss and his teammates recently became the first team in school history to reach the third round of the state football playoffs. And after a 35-34 overtime victory over Coppell at McLane Stadium last week, the Raiders have no plans to shut down the season now.
On Saturday, Cedar Ridge (12-1) will face Hendrickson (10-3) in a state quarterfinal at The Pfield in Pflugerville. The winner will advance to play Allen or Euless Trinity next week in a state semifinal.
On Wednesday, Coss and defensive tackle Tahj Williams recounted the brutal workouts the Raiders endured last December. By choice, Cedar Ridge’s players participated in mat drills, a series of maneuvers that includes running, cutting, diving and barrel rolls.
“At this time last year, we were grinding ourselves to exhaustion,” Coss said. “It was all about discipline.”
Cedar Ridge is arguably the most under-the-radar great team in Central Texas. The Round Rock district high school, which opened its doors in 2010, has compiled a 33-4 record over the past three seasons. The Raiders have reached that mark while playing for three different head coaches.
Sam Robinson knew he had inherited a good team when he became the Raiders’ latest head coach in February. But Robinson, the Raiders’ former defensive coordinator, didn’t foresee that his team would be among the final eight contenders for the Class 6A, Division I state championship.
“I wouldn’t have bet money on it,” Robinson said.
“We had a lot of very talented players returning, but there were a lot of unknowns,” he added. “We had a different coaching staff, a different quarterback and a lot of different players.”
So when did Robinson know this year might be special?
In consecutive games in September, the Raiders held off Temple 21-14 and Hendrickson 43-27. Robinson recalled that against Temple, a goal-line stand by his defense in the final minute saved the day.
The Raiders’ defense, Robinson said, has been “dominating” during the playoffs. Behind the play of defensive linemen Tahj Williams, Victor Winston, Edge Dillard-Williams and Daymond Williams, Cedar Park has limited opponents to 19 points a game.
Robinson noted that the average weight of his defensive linemen is 220 pounds. In consecutive victories over Klein Oak and Coppell in the playoffs, the Raiders faced off against offensive linemen who weighed close to 300 pounds apiece.
“We’re fast … and we won’t back down,” Tahj Williams said.
Coss has been a consistent leader on offense this season, contributing 23 touchdown passes. Cedar Ridge’s standout running back Simi Bakare, who has piled up 1,727 yards and 29 touchdowns this fall, was injured last week against Coppell, and his availability for the Hendrickson rematch remains in doubt.
The Raiders said they often go unrecognized because they attend a relatively new school and there are some high-profile teams in the area that gather most of the attention. Last week’s victory over Coppell, though, might go a long way in bringing the Raiders some of the respect they have been craving.
“We’ve been the underdog every single year,” Coss said.
That might all change with another victory or two.