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Williams’ return ignites Radnor in shutout

TREDYFFRIN >> Radnor senior Naair Williams waited a long time for Friday night, having not played since the season opener due to a knee injury.

The rest of the Raiders waited even longer, not beating Conestoga since 2002.

Friday night, Williams was the workhorse and the Radnor defense stood tall as the Raiders got over that hump with a big 10-0 Central League win over Conestoga at Teamer Field.

“I’ve been here 10 years and this is my first time beating them,” Radnor head coach Tom Ryan said. “I’m really proud of the way we played in all three phases.”

The biggest injury returnee was Williams, whose 55 yards on 16 carries don’t exactly jump off the page. But the pounding the 5-11, 210-pound Williams put on the Conestoga defensive line with each carry made a big difference and loosened things up for other Radnor backs like Isaiah Coates (32 yards) and Zach Wade (35 yards), who had the game’s only touchdown.

“I was fired up to get out there,” Williams said. “In the first quarter I was feeling pretty good, and the knee feels fine. Pounding up front was part of the game plan, and then we were able to switch it up at halftime a bit.”

Radnor jumped out to a 7-0 on the first series of the game, marching down the field on a six-play, 66-yard drive that ended with Wade’s 7-yard touchdown run.

The Raiders (3-5, 2-4 Central) got some help from Conestoga, thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for some post-play pushing and shoving that set up first-and-goal.

After that, Conestoga (2-6, 2-5) moved the ball well but was never able to finish things off when it mattered.
That had a lot to do with the Radnor defense, which pestered quarterback Nick Braendel all night, flushing him out of the pocket and blanketing his receiving options.

“They were putting a lot of pressure on early and trying to get me to throw fast and not make good passes,” said Braendel, who finished 8-for-13 for 61 yards and was flushed from the pocket at least 10 times on the night. “It made me boot out of the pocket and try to make something happen. They were taking the linebackers and sending them late and all the pressure just made plays fall apart.”

The biggest play of the night for Conestoga was one that didn’t really happen. Trailing 10-0 in the fourth quarter, Braendel fumbled a shotgun snap from his own 24. The junior scooped it up and tried to make something happen, breaking tackles and weaving through the secondary for what appeared to be an electrifying 76-yard touchdown run.

But the yellow flag sitting at the Radnor 43-yard line meant it was all for naught: A block in the back call brought the Pioneers back, and two sacks later, Conestoga punted.

“That’s a momentum taker,” Braendel said. “That really killed our momentum.”

Other than the first-quarter touchdown, the biggest play of the night for Radnor came after the called-back Braendel run.

With less than five minutes left, and facing a third-and-15 from his their 40, Braendel dropped back in the shotgun and saw an open Peyton Force Jones streaking down the center of the field.

But this time, it wasn’t a flag that stymied the Pioneers, it was linebacker Najeh Fowler, who made an unbelievable play to break up the pass and ending Conestoga’s last real hope.

“I just saw him coming for that ball and I told him he couldn’t have it,” Fowler said. “ My responsibility was the deep ball, and it worked out. We’re really proud of the way we played. We really shut it down in the secondary.”

The Raiders head to Strath Haven with newfound life, and hopefully more healthy bodies back in uniform.

“It was nice getting back some of the injured guys,” Ryan said. “We’re just glad to have guys like Naair back. He runs the ball so hard and does a great job. We’re excited to have him back for the rest of the season.”

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