It was a big hurdle that Rider cleared a week ago, symbolized by Carlos Fleeks' jaw-breaking leap and capped by dancing on the field.
But no team goes to the weight room in June or runs pass routes under July's burning sun with a chant of "we're No. 4."
So there's even more on the line this week for Region I champion Rider and Region II champ Lancaster as they battle at 7:30 tonight at Northwest ISD Stadium on Highway 114.
"We want to be 1-0 this week," Rider coach Jim Garfield said with his familiar theme.
But it's an unfamiliar foe in Lancaster, which comes in 13-1 and has speed on both sides of the ball.
In some ways the Tigers remind Garfield of Abilene Cooper with their breakaway speed at the skill positions. It'll be a different challenge for a Rider defense coming off a high of holding Frenship to three first downs in the second half and seven total points.
"This is a good outfit we're fixing to play," Garfield said. "The kids are believing in each other and in the coaches. They'll have it down by game time, where the weak spots are, and they've been able to adapt and overcome."
Lancaster quarterback Demarcus Ayers (1,531 pass yards, 1,286 rush yards) has accounted for 34 touchdowns, 20 of them in the air. Nick Harvey has 739 yards rushing and 719 receiving with 16 touchdowns. And running back Joseph Paden has 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns.
They could put the Rider linebackers and secondary in some crucial one-on-one tackling situations. Inside linebackers Bradley Goldstein and Josh Haisten lead the team with 167 and 123 tackles. Outside linebackers Sam Scribner (17 tackles last week) and Caleb Levell will be counted on to be "fence posts" and not give up the outside lanes to Lancaster's speedy backs.
But Tigers coach Chris Gilbert is quick to point out his team has a tall task ahead in Rider tonight.
"It's a tough football team and they play with personality," Gilbert said. "They play as a team. They have an old-school kind of feel to them. I like how they play together.
"And it's tough anytime you get multiple styles. The single wing is something you don't see on an every-week basis."
Rider running backs Domanic Thrasher and Carlos Fleeks have been a powerful tandem in the playoffs, virtually trading off starring roles on a weekly and sometimes quarter-by-quarter basis. Thrasher scored his team-leading 23rd touchdown last week and leads the team with 1,382 yards. Fleeks is coming off his second 100-yard game of the postseason and he has 734 yards and a dozen TDs on the season.
Defensively, Gilbert said, the key for the Tigers is a "collaborative effort. Our biggest asset is our quickness. Strength and discipline makes us go round."
Rider quarterback Chase London has 1,087 yards passing with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Receiver Brylan McCoy (24-452-4) has scored in each playoff game. Davon Allison, John Hatch and Josh Price have also proven capable of big plays.
Lancaster boasts defensive end Daeshon Hall, a one-time Texas commitment who is being recruited by several major schools, specifically in the Pac 12. He stands 6-foot-6 and wears No. 16.
Rider defensive back Tanner Weir, also the holder on placement kicks, sprained his ankle in Saturday's win over Frenship. Garfield wasn't ruling him out for tonight.
And his team wasn't ready to rule out a trip to the state championship in Arlington even when injuries to stars like J.T. Barrett, Mason Stone and Brandon Williams struck.
One hurdle remains as the Raiders try to clear a one-loss team for the second straight week. The winner will face the Manor-Cedar Park winner at 8 p.m. on Dec. 21 at Cowboys Stadium for the Class 4A Division II title.
Note: Tickets are $10 at the gate tonight and parking is $5.
how they got here
Lost at Abilene Cooper, 43-36
Def. Denton Ryan, 21-15
Def. Amarillo, 26-17
Def. Byron Nelson, 50-14
Def. Brewer, 44-17
Def. Lake Dallas, 26-7
Def. Azle, 29-22
Lost at Denton Guyer, 21-10
Def. Denton, 40-7
Def. WFHS, 49-0
Def. FW Dunbar, 44-26
Def. FW Southwest, 31-21
Def. El Paso Burges, 64-35
Def. Frenship, 33-7
Def. FW Nolan, 35-21
Def. Tyler John Tyler, 26-21
Def. Dallas Kimball, 28-6
Def. Mansfield Legacy, 28-20
Def. Waxahachie, 45-14
Def. Arlington Seguin, 28-7
Def. Mansfield Lake Ridge, 70-6
Lost to Red Oak, 17-0
Def. Mansfield Summit, 48-17
Def. Jacksonville, 34-2
Def, Lucas Lovejoy, 41-16
Def. Prosper, 36-29
Def. Mequite Poteet, 21-13
Pigskinprep.com says: Rider by 3