ThunderRidge won the Class 4A state football championship in 2001, 2004 and 2005.
However, Friday’s game against Valor Christian will be the Grizzlies first appearance in the Class 5A semifinals.
“It feels good to be in the semis,” ThunderRidge coach Joe Johnson said. “I told the boys this is the first time we’ve won three 5A playoff games.
“No question about it, we’ll have a tough task against Valor Christian.”
This is the first season the Eagles have played in Class 5A but Valor Christian is seeking its fourth consecutive state championship.
Valor Christian won the Class 4A title in 2011 and 2010 and the Class 3A state crown in 2009.
The Eagles are unbeaten in 15 state playoff games.
NO. 1 THUNDERRIDGE (11-1) VS. NO. 4 VALOR CHRISTIAN (9-2)
When, where: 7 p.m. Nov. 23 at Shea Stadium
Game plan: Valor Christian has been terrorizing opponent’s defenses all season, averaging 44.2 points per game, but the Eagles defense has been just as dominate recording four shutouts and allowing an average of 6.9 points a game. The defensive line has been outstanding. Junior linebacker Justin Falls leads the Eagles with 69 tackles. Senior Levi Wallace has four of the team’s 15 interceptions and running back/linebacker Cameron Gray has been in of six of the 21 sacks recorded by the defense. Gray has been sidelined because of injuries. The Eagles offense is led by quarterback Luke Del Rio who has a 128 quarterback rating, passing for 1,958 yards with 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Junior Christian McCaffrey is averaging 10.1 yards per rush and 12.96 yards per catch. ThunderRidge can counter with an explosive offense that is scoring 39.7 points per game. Hard-running Steve Ray and Jake Hand are the leaders of the ground game which has rushed for 303.3 yards a game. Quarterback Brody Westmoreland directs the offense with his runs and passes. The defense has struggled at times but came up big in a quarterfinal victory over Grandview.
Extra point: ThunderRidge needs to keep pace with the Eagles offensively. The Grizzlies defense has to find a way to contain Valor Christian and not fall behind early because the Eagles are used to playing with the lead. According to statistics after 12 games, ThunderRidge’s offense has managed 443 yards per game compared to 378 for Valor Christian but defensively there is no comparison with the Eagles getting the nod.