RIDLEY TWP. >> Joe Kennedy didn’t mince words and didn’t hold back what he was feeling.
Twenty minutes after the game was over, after Springfield defeated Ridley, 20-14, in an overtime thriller Friday night at Phil Marion Field , Kennedy still had on his helmet. The football, with which he made the game-ending interception, was clutched in his right arm.
“Biggest play, biggest game, biggest everything,” said Kennedy, Springfield’s do-everything senior. “That was probably the most unforgettable moment of my entire life.”
Wow … it must’ve been one heck of a play then, huh? You bet it was.
In overtime, Kennedy pulled down a Cade Stratton pass intended for Ociele Miller in the corner of the end zone with Ridley trailing by six points. Both Kennedy and David Strawley, though, moved into excellent position to make the pick — the play to win the game for Springfield. Either could have come down with the ball, but it was Kennedy’s moment.
And with it, an amazing victory for Springfield — arguably the greatest in program history. For the first time since 1994, the Cougars had overcome the mountainous obstacle known as the Green Mystique. The 22-year losing streak was over… just like that.
Perhaps Sept. 30, 2016 will mark the beginning of the Gold & Blue’s streak. The Cougars (6-0 overall, 5-0 Central League), unceremoniously bounced out of the Daily Times Super 7 this week, had knocked off the No. 1 team in Delco.
“On defense, we had it all planned out, just little things we had to do that bottled us up in the beginning, maybe some mental things, but we got that worked out,” Kennedy said, praising the Cougars’ tremendous defensive effort. “We had to get it back together and we knew, in the second half, we had to come out stronger than ever.”
That’s exactly what the Cougars did after facing a 14-7 halftime deficit. They ratcheted up the pressure, led by the likes of linemen Justin Shields, Dan Gluck and Kevin Deal. Ridley’s trio of speedy backs — Miller, Malik Young and Brock Anderson — were held to 34 total yards in the second half. Ridley leaned on its counter, fakes and sweeps — a game plan that worked wonderfully a few weeks ago at Garnet Valley — but Springfield’s defense shut down the ground attack.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) October 1, 2016
“We came in here and played this like any other game,” said Shields, a 5-11, 210-pound junior nose guard/center. “We gave it all we had. Credit to Ridley, they played an awesome game. It was a battle all night.”
Springfield won the coin toss in overtime and needed just two plays to score. Ja’Den McKenzie (16 carries, 70 yards) took a handoff eight yards and then plunged into the end zone from two yards out to give the Cougars their first lead of the night.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) October 1, 2016
But it was Kennedy’s defense and pass-catching in the fourth quarter that kept the Cougars alive. He had made a spectacular grab on third down to set up the game-tying touchdown, a McKenzie four-yard catch from Johnny Fanelli.
“We come together and there’s no individuals,” said Kennedy, who had seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter. “There are stars at individual positions, but we all come together and stay together. Especially tonight, because Ridley has a great team with a lot of stars, too. We just put so much work in the offseason … and we knew that this game could come down to one play.”
Fanelli was excellent under center for the Cougars. Affectionately nicknamed “Johnny Football” by his teammates, Fanelli was 14 of 25 for 181 yards and two TDs. He extended plays with his feet and made wise decisions throwing the ball. Most of the time, he targeted Kennedy, who caught just about every pass thrown in his general direction.
“I love throwing the ball to Joe Kennedy,” Fanelli said. “I love throwing the ball to all the other guys, too, but he’s a special player. He does it all, offense, defense and special teams. He’s critical… but don’t forget the linemen. Those guys opened some holes late and the rest is history.”
Ridley struck first in the first quarter when Young somehow avoided being tackled on a rush play. Young bounced off a Springfield defender and sprinted 61 yards to the end zone. Everyone on the field thought he was down, but Young never stopped running. Young had 93 of his game-high 98 yards in the first half.
Springfield tied the game, 7-7, with an eight-play drive that culminated with a 19-yard pass from Fanelli to Kennedy.
Ridley regained the lead when, on third-and-long from Springfield’s 28-yard-line, Stratton hooked up with Shane Dougherty across the middle of the field. Dougherty stretched out his arms to haul in the pass, which put the Green Raiders (5-1, 4-1) back in front, 14-7.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) September 30, 2016
To further underscore the level at which both defenses played, Springfield outgained Ridley in total offense by a mere two yards, 268-266.
But the game was largely decided because of the adjustments made by Springfield’s defense after halftime. Ridley’s potent rushing attack was a non-factor.
“They’re a very good football team,” said Ridley’s Zach Wagner, a senior captain and lineman. “Back and forth, it was a battle. They just executed better than us tonight and we’ve got to bounce back and get ready for Marple (Newtown) next week.”