By Alex Nicolas

Coming into Friday’s Class 5A DII regional semifinal, Rider’s defense appeared to be an unmovable object with an FBS level talent anchoring the defense line and who also runs the ball for them at a high level.

Rider was allowing only 157.4 rushing yards per game, and also held nine of their 12 opponents to 20 points or less on the season.

The pregame stats and prowess proved to be true as the Rider defense stifled the Canutillo offense to just 13 total yards in the first quarter, 85 total yards at halftime – 35 of which came on a single play – and kept Canutillo out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter when the result was in hand.

Result was Rider improving to 10-0 all-time versus El Paso teams in the playoffs as they defeated Canutillo 28-7 Friday night in Midland.

Rider (12-1) now moves on to the 5A DII regional finals for the fourth consecutive season.

The Raiders' FBS prospect Anquan Willis got the scoring going with a one-yard touchdown run to cap a 17-play, 56-yard opening scoring drive that took six minutes off the board and set the tone for the afternoon.

Rider turned the ball over twice in the opening half, the second was a special teams miscue that gave Canutillo the ball at the Rider 20 yard line which was their best starting position of the game.

However, Canutillo only gained one yard on the series and turned it over on downs as Eagles quarterback Devin Granados tried a deep ball for LJ Martin on fourth down at the 7:00 mark of the opening quarter.

Rider’s Kaden Jones would haul in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jack Pitts in the closing seconds of the first quarter to make it 14-0 after the first.

Then Jones took an interception 33-yards for a touchdown with 4:36 left until halftime and the Raiders held a commanding 21-0 lead at the half.

Canutillo was facing another third and long and Jones stepped right in front of a Devin Granados pass for an easy return for a score and seized all momentum at that point.

Canutillo’s defense was solid throughout, forcing a pair of turnovers and held Rider to just 213 yards of total offense.  But Rider cashing in on good field position opportunities, and the Eagles inability to stay out of third and long was the story of this one.

The Rider defense piled up 11 tackles for loss and a sack and held Canutillo to a 3.4 yards per play average in the game.

Willis ended the night with 88 yards rushing and added another rushing touchdown with 11:11 left in the game with a three-yard touchdown that made it 28-0 Rider.

The drive was set up by a long punt return after another Canutillo three-and-out on offense which set up Rider at the Canutillo 37-yard line.  Willis was also a factor on the defense side along with his brother.

LJ Martin ran for 95 tough yards on 20 carries, adding a late five-yard touchdown run.  It was the Rider defensive line shutting down the Eagles' trap actions up front, notably Rider defenders Antwone Willis and Logan Rex were all over the field making plays for the Raiders.

Canutillo finished with 189 total yards of offense and had their chances with three drives that took them inside the Rider 40 yard line but were unable to capitalize thanks to a great effort by the Rider defense.

The Eagles were 7-for-21 passing as a team for just 61 yards, Granados was held to eight straight incompletions at one point in the game.

Canutillo’s season ends and 11-2 overall and marks the Eagles longest playoff run since 2014.

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