By Anthony SanFilippo
For Digital First Media
RIDLEY TWP. >> When coach Dave Wood took over the Ridley football program last February and instituted wholesale culture changes that would flip the historical style of Green Raider football on its ear, there were a lot of raised eyebrows.
How could Ridley win as an offense that heavily focused on the run? How would a 3-4 defense work when for years Ridley was known for its 4-3 run-stuffing? How would players used to playing both ways or doing more things suddenly accept a reduced, team-oriented role?
Wood is still a few playoff wins from becoming Norman Dale from Hoosiers, but he’s made believers out of everyone in the Ridley community.
The exclamation point on the team’s return to Central League prominence occurred with Friday’s 38-8 thumping of Upper Darby in the final game of the regular season.
The win allowed Ridley (9-1, 8-1) to be co-champions of the Central League (along with Springfield and Marple Newtown) and earn a PIAA playoff berth for the first time since 2012.
It is the 23rd Central League championship for the Raiders.
“I can’t even begin to describe the feeling,” said linebacker Sean Crowley, who along with the rest of the Ridley defense wreaked havoc on the passing attack of the Royals (4-6, 4-4). “We bought in to everything Coach Wood told us and it’s led to this – being Central League champs. But we’ve got more work to do. This was just one goal. We’ve got more.”
Efforts to reach that next goal will begin next week with a first-round home playoff game in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. Ridley is guaranteed a home game in the first round. They will find out their opponent Sunday morning.
“This is a credit to all our seniors,” Wood said. “When I got here, they were all used to doing things their way. I asked them to give me and the staff a chance. They did and this year, these seniors beat Haverford for the first time. They beat Garnet Valley for the first time. And now they beat Upper Darby.”
Not only did they beat them, they smothered them.
Ridley held the Royals to 121 total yards of offense, 95 of which came in the fourth quarter after Ridley had built a 38-0 lead.
Were it not for a nifty middle screen pass from Nate Rimel to Nasir Greer that went for 53 yards with 9:50 to play, Ridley would have put together its third consecutive shutout.
“We have a special bond on the defense,” linebacker Ryan Gricco said. “Most of us have been playing together since we were little kids in Blackrock Park. They’re my brothers. We work really hard every day for one another.”
They forced Rimel, one of the best quarterbacks in the county, to either make throws before he wanted to, or run for his life.
In the end, Rimel ended up 12-for-27 for 141 yards and two interceptions and ended up losing 49 yards on eight rushes.
“Our defense has gotten better each week,” Wood said. “We do a lot of different things each week, which can be challenging, but they put the time in because they really want to win. It’s a credit to them.”
Malik Young had a pair of touchdowns for the Raiders, including the first score, which came on a 62-yard interception return.
Cade Stratton paced a balanced and dominant Ridley rushing attack. He had 57 yards and a touchdown. Ociele Miller had 59 yards and a touchdown and Brock Anderson had 85 yards and a touchdown on just six carries.
“After the last three years, a lot of people thought Ridley football was done,” Crowley said. “But Coach Wood has turned everything around and this whole town is on the bus with him.”