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Defense sets tone as Ridley gets first win

Ridley running back Elijah Yakpasuo, stiff-arming Radnor's Aiden Carter last week, helped lead the Green Raiders to their first victory of the season Friday night over Lower Merion. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

RIDLEY TWP. — Tahmir Wilmore came sprinting to the sideline and basically screamed, “We set the tone!”

The junior defensive lineman and his teammates had just forced Lower Merion to turn the ball over on downs after Ridley threw an interception on the previous possession.

Wilmore recorded a sack of the Aces’ Matt O’Connor on third down, then teammates Michael McDonnell and Bryce Regan combined to take Lower Merion’s quarterback down on the ensuing play. Such intensity was exactly what the Green Raiders needed and Wilmore was the one instilling it in his teammates.

“I know we’ve lost every game (to this point) but we knew we had to keep going,” Wilmore said. “We want to keep everybody intense because we know we’ll be on top soon.”

Ridley recorded three sacks and limited Lower Merion to 156 total yards of offense in a 35-18 Central League victory, the Green Raiders’ first win of the season.

The Aces turned the ball over on downs on their first two possessions, then the following two drives resulted in punts. The only play that kept them within striking distance was Kahalil Devero-Williams’ 78-yard return off of a blocked field goal in the second quarter.

Head coach Dave Wood stressed how the defense’s presence gave life to the offense and ultimately fueled the win.

“For us, the way we’ve been the last couple of years, that sets the tone for us,” Wood said. “We’re usually always trying to defer and play defense first. That builds in momentum with the offense getting the ball and being able to run some play action.”

The Green Raiders’ rushing attack racked up 302 yards and the catalyst behind that was senior running back Elijah Yakpasuo. First, Yakpasuo made his presence felt in the passing game catching, a swing pass from Jack Bakey and taking it 41 yards for the first touchdown of the game. With under a minute left in the second, Yakpasuo rumbled in for a five-yard score to give Ridley (1-4, 1-3 Central League) a 14-6 advantage at the break.

Yakpasuo, who finished with 168 rushing yards on 18 carries, knows a performance like this can propel an entire team as they head down the stretch.

“It keeps the momentum going,” Yakpasuo said. “I tell my team to never quit.”

Also contributing to the Raiders’ strong running game was Dylan Stanley, who had 78 rushing yards and was utilized for the tough, inside runs while Yakpasuo was controlling things on the outside. Hassan Chandler added a two-yard scamper on the Green Raiders’ first possession of the second half.

Lower Merion (0-5, 0-4) did have its share of opportunities. O’Connor, who threw for 121 yards, took in a quarterback draw with 10:38 left to play and cut the Ridley lead to 10 points. On the next possession, O’Connor thought he had a touchdown but Chandler broke up a pass in the end zone. Later, he found Jaden Helton on a wheel route for a 48-yard score.

Aces head coach Evan Breisblatt focused on the lack of a running game (35 rushing yards) as the biggest reason his team couldn’t close the gap in the second half.

“We’ve had trouble running the football so we rely heavily on our passing game,” Breisblatt. “I think that Ridley was a lot more physical than us up front and that was the ball game.”

The Green Raiders capped off a strong defensive showing as Myles Turner stripped O’Connor and recovered the fumble with under a minute to play. After giving up 140 points in its first four games, Wood knew this was the type of game his team had been hoping to put together.

“We played pretty well two weeks ago but didn’t play well last week,” Wood said. “So right now, we’re just trying to get back to basics and consistency and that showed tonight.”

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