There has been very little that has been normal in 2020 and that certainly applies to high school football, as well.
Few teams have been thrown as many curve balls as Sunnyvale, whose season has featured a series of twists and turns.
Through it all, the Raiders (6-4) have persevered, and they find themselves in a familiar face when they meet Gilmer (11-1) in the Class 4A Division II quarterfinals at Athens’ Bruce Field.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first affected high school sports back in March, it was effectively the end for spring sports.
As the pandemic persisted and stretched into the fall, the University Interscholastic League had a decision to make regarding football.
The UIL postponed football for teams in more highly-populated areas, meaning Class 6A and 5A would not start until late September.
There was also a Dallas County mandate that followed suit, one that affected every team except Sunnyvale, the lone program in Class 4A.
Head coach John Settle had to adjust on the fly just to find opponents. It was not an easy task at such a late hour and the Raiders were going to have to go on the road to play.
Despite having just a little over a week of practice due to other county measures, Sunnyvale traveled roughly 389 miles for games against Waco Connally, Melissa and Kennedale.
The Raiders had not lost a regular season game since 2017, but after three tough challenges against future playoff teams that have posted a combined 27-6-1 record, they were suddenly staring at a 0-3 record.
It was a tough start, but Settle felt the team was making strides, particularly in the finale of that three-game stretch against Kennedale, who needed a last-second field goal to pull out a 28-27 win.
Sunnyvale’s first win came in its first home game, a 47-14 rout of Carrollton Ranchview, but the following week, they were dealt another setback with a 44-38 loss to Caddo Mills in the district opener that dropped them to 1-4 on the season.
The Raiders got an unexpected break when Nevada Community was forced to cancel the game the following week and when they returned the following week against Quinlan Ford, their fortunes began to change.
Sunnyvale started firing on all cylinders, outscoring their next three district opponents by a combined score of 155-33.
That momentum carried over into the playoff opener against Ferris, where they rolled to a 38-14 victory. The Raiders were supposed to meet Mexia in the area finals, but the Black Cats were forced to forfeit due to a positive COVID-19 case within the program.
That propels Sunnyvale into the third round of the playoffs for the second straight season, and while Gilmer is a perennial state title contender, the Raiders have plenty of reasons to believe they belong where they stand.
Quarterback Max McAda has not had to throw the ball as much as many pass-oriented offenses, but he has been very efficient, completing 65-of-107 attempts for 1,247 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
McAda has also been solid on the ground, rushing for 478 yards and six scores.
Obi Arinze paced the ground game, with 94 rushes for 746 yards and eight touchdowns, while Alex Luna has accounted for 237 yards and a pair of scores.
Sunnyvale features a gamebreaker on the outside in wide receiver Noah McDill, who has 45 catches for 846 yards and nine touchdowns and Joey Bruszer is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception (18-358) with four scores.
The Raider defense is led by Jake Taylor who has a team-high 114 tackles, including 16 for loss.
McAda is also a standout on the defensive side of the ball, with 87 tackles, with five for loss.
Other players to watch on that side of the ball are Luna (57 tackles), Diyan Pun (56 tackles), Zac Bartis (50 tackles), Landry Laird (48 tackles), Hudson Smith (48 tackles), Brendon Gomez (five interceptions, seven pass breakups) and McDill (three interceptions).
The winner of this game moves on to the regional semifinals to take on either Texarkana Pleasant Grove or Caddo Mills.