Matt Daniels-Ron Crawford
Coaches Matt Daniels (left, Ravenwood) and Ron Crawford (right, Brentwood) hope to lead their teams deep into the playoffs.

One of Williamson County’s best football rivalries resumes tonight, when Brentwood and Ravenwood tee it up in the “Battle of the Woods” in Week Five.

The annual rivalry, which kicks off at 7 p.m. at Ravenwood, has obvious significance in that they’re both large Brentwood public schools. The rivalry often has massive standings implications, and this year is no exception.

Last year’s contest also occurred in Week Five. The Raptors, under then-first-year head coach Matt Daniels, were picked near the bottom of the six-team Region 6-6A. But the Raptors, then 3-1 and riding a three-game winning streak, went on the road and upset Brentwood by a 31-23 score. 

It put a stamp of legitimacy on the Raptors, who came off a 7-6 season under the ill-fated one-year tenure of Richie Wesserman in 2016. That was the confidence the Raptors needed to go 10-3 and win a pair of playoff games.

That loss proved costly for the Bruins. It was their only defeat in Region 6-6A, resulting in a standings tie with Ravenwood at 5-1 in region play at season’s end. That win gave the Raptors the No. 1 seed in the playoffs from the region. 

It also meant that Brentwood faced Cane Ridge a week earlier in last year’s state playoffs. Consequently, the Ravens ousted Brentwood from the playoffs in Round Two before doing the same to Ravenwood the next week. 

Friday’s matchup marks the midway point of the season. Thus far, these clearly look like the best two teams of the six-team Region 6-6A, making for another potential winner-take-all matchup. 

Re-loaded Brentwood finds balance

No one could blame coach Ron Crawford if the Bruins had a down season in 2018. Former all-star quarterback Carson Shacklett graduated and plays baseball at Belmont, as did a number of his receivers. A host of defensive starters led by linebacker C.J. Grissim, who tackled everything in sight the last few years for the Bruins.

But Crawford, one of the area’s most respected coaches, simply seems to have re-loaded. The Bruins can run the ball, throw the ball, and excel on defense, also.

Questions arose when the Bruins didn’t seem settled on a quarterback going into the season. In perhaps a mild surprise, sophomore Cade Granzow beat out a pair of seniors to win the starting quarterback job. He seems to have justified Crawford’s decision with his play so far.

It helps that Granzow has plenty of weapons. 

Last week, it was running back Jordan Nicholas’s turn to shine, as he ran 17 times for 95 yards and three scores in a win over Stewart’s Creek. The Bruins also have one of the area’s most gifted receivers in Chayce Bishop. 

But Brentwood has a number of other talented pass-catchers, and receivers Avery Williams and Walker Merrill make it harder for defenses to focus on stopping any one player. 

On defense, lineman Tank Starr, who had a fumble recovery touchdown, and Merrill, a talented safety, have kept Brentwood strong. 

Raptors enter Week Five on a roll

Daniels and Ravenwood earned respect last year, and started this season as the region favorite. 

So far, so good. The Raptors are 4-0, a record made more impressive by the fact that its first three wins came on the road (Centennial, Siegel and Franklin).

“We run very similar offenses,” Daniels said this week, when comparing his team to Brentwood. He’s certainly right in the fact that the Raptors also have excellent balance.

In last week’s impressive, 35-7 thumping of Page, Ravenwood ran for 206 yards and threw for 177. Quarterback Brian Garcia, who’s having an excellent season, was 11 of 17 for all 177 yards, and completed passes to five different receivers. 

The chief target was wide receiver Anthony Holmes, who caught five balls for 96 yards, and ran twice for 26 more. 

Seventeen games into his Ravenwood tenure, Daniels has consistently spread the touches around. Running back Jordan Smith ran for 890 yards last year, and really came on at season’s end. But last week, it was emerging sophomore Tony Rice, who led the team in carries (16) and rushing yards (81). 

But who makes a play for Ravenwood changes from one drive to another. Last week,five different Raptors—Rice, Holmes, Shane Craig, Connor Pace and Evan Coleman—scored touchdowns. It was much the same way for Ravenwood last year.

Daniels said before the season that the Ravenwood could be a strong run-right team, and started the season with perhaps his best two offensive lineman, college prospects Graham Barton (tackle) and Gabe Sleenhof (guard) on that side. 

The Raptors had a huge task in replacing fantastically-productive linebacker Anthony McCarthy. But a terrific team effort led by Craig, who had an interception, Smith (five total tackles) and Luke Shouse (a team-leading six tackles), Ravenwood held a good Page offense to 149 yards and six first downs last week. 

Who’s got the edge?

Ravenwood figures to be the favorite. The Raptors have the better record and play at home.

But is Brentwood sneakily the better team? 

The Bruins may have a mild case that they’ve been so far, despite the one loss. That defeat was a 27-24 loss to nemesis Cane Ridge, probably the best team either has faced so far. 

The Bruins also have a plus-62 scoring edge over opponents, compared to Ravenwood’s plus-43, against what’s probably been a tougher schedule to date. 

And while no one would suggest Ravenwood isn’t good enough to be 4-0, the Raptors teetered on the edge in their first three games, trailing a good bit in those contests before eventually winning each by seven or less.

But we’re splitting hairs. 

The results were about the same against one common opponent—Ravenwood beat Franklin 24-20, while Brentwood handled the Rebels 17-14—and it’s not hard to imagine the Raptors significantly upping their game. Last week’s win over Page was probably the team’s best effort this season.

In other words, this looks about as evenly-matched as possible. 

That was certainly the case last year, too. The Raptors have an uncanny knack for making the right play at the right moment. Then-Ravenwood senior Darius Harper blocked a field goal and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown, turning three potential Bruin points into six the other way. 

Crawford believes that was the difference a year ago. And his team doesn’t seem to have forgotten.  

“We’re going to work really, really hard,” he said this week. “They’re going to [have to] beat us another way this year.”

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