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Ridley’s strong second half averts letdown vs. Strath Haven

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Ridley coach Dave Wood waited about as long as he could last week — which is to say, until Saturday’s video session — to instruct his players about the mantle they assumed in last Friday’s win over Garnet Valley.

When they entered halftime Friday leading but hardly comfortable against Strath Haven, the Green Raiders knew they’d need more to banish any risk of that dreaded “l” word.

Ridley ensured no letdown materialized, suffocating Haven in the third quarter for a 38-17 win.

The ball control so prevalent against Garnet Valley kicked into overdrive in the third, with a pair of sustained drives leading to 10 points. By the time Ociele Miller stepped into the end zone on the first offensive snap of the fourth quarter, Ridley (4-0 overall, 3-0 Central League) had run 24 offensive plays since halftime. Haven had just three, facing a 31-17 deficit.

“Eight-minute drive, seven-minute drive, with players going both ways, they’re just tired,” Ridley defensive back/receiver Allen Martin said. “They’re exhausted. And as soon as they get back with the ball on offense, our defense can just dominate them. “

“We worked on it over the summer, being able to keep going and not being tired, being able to pound the clock,” added running back Malik Young.

Friday was Young’s turn in the limelight of the Green Raiders’ multi-back rotation. He picked up 104 yards on nine carries and touchdowns of five and seven yards, the second with 1:10 left to set the final margin.

The balance in Wood’s Wing-T approach was remarkable. Quarterback Cade Stratton toted 18 times for 97 yards and a score, a one-yard dive in the first quarter that illustrated his line’s immense push, moving the point of attack rugby-style five yards deep into the end zone for Stratton to tip-toe across.

Fullback Brock Anderson bulled his way to 98 yards on 12 carries, including a scoring dash of 17 yards. And Miller’s 10 carries for 42 yards helped perpetuate the demoralizing clock control that racked up 370 yards on 53 carries and earned 23 first downs.

Young’s score at 9:59 of the second quarter appeared to cement Ridley’s momentum with a 17-3 edge. They were dominating in the trenches, and Martin pocketed a pair of interceptions of quarterback Evan Atsaves, the latter of which he returned 52 yards for a TD that was nullified by a flag.

“We knew that the Garnet Valley upset was a big upset, but we said to ourselves that if we came into Strath Haven and lost, that was going to be an even bigger upset,” Young said. “And we didn’t want to have that on our shoulders.”

But Strath Haven (2-2, 2-1) fought back. The Panthers found holes between the tackles with Zach Newlon (19 carries for 77 yards) and Hunter Mazur (nine for 61) and embarked on an 11-yard, 74-yard drive that culminated in a Van Bobo one-yard score to cut the halftime deficit to 21-10.

Ridley adjusted in the second half, aided by the defense’s exposure to a similar offense in practice daily.

“The Wing-T is a typical offense to face. It’s a lot of trap games,” Martin said. “You get upfield, they trap you and they hit the hole and go. So second half, we made adjustments at the line of scrimmage, do not go upfield, and it worked in the second half.”

Haven made the best of its first second-half chance, Atsaves hooking up with Thomas Foster for a 70-yard touchdown to draw within seven points. (That was one of five combined completions on 20 attempts, one of which came when John Harrar batted a Stratton pass into Anderson’s arms.)

Ridley added a 40-yard field goal from Kyran Baker after their first third-quarter march, matching Emmet Young’s 25-yarder in the first quarter after Young muffed a punt.

Though it wasn’t the result Haven was after, the Panthers never wilted, even as their opposition toughened significantly from previous wins over Lower Merion and Harriton. That they hung tight to Ridley is consolation.

“We definitely took a step, not as big as I hoped,” said Harrar, who deflected three passes to go with 1.5 tackles for loss. “… We’re trying to change the Strath Haven program. These past years, we haven’t been competing with the top dogs. I think we showed we can compete this year.”

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