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Warwick kicks Ridley’s postseason hopes into high gear

Ridley running back Elijah Yakpasuo reaches for the pylon ahead of Haverford defenders for a touchdown Friday. Yakpasuo ran for 157 yards in a 31-28 win. (Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)
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HAVERFORD — Nate Warwick didn’t expect Friday night to end with a huddle of players chanting his name. Even after his Ridley teammates dispersed, the senior kicker seemed a tad uncertain that it had actually happened.

But after testimonials from a bevy of mates, Warwick admitted, in a self-effacing manner perfectly tailored to a kicker’s mentality, that yes, his 25-yard field with 1:41 to play — and a playoff berth on the line, and the first bands of a nor’easter blowing in — was a pretty big deal.

Ridley quarterback Jack Bakey celebrates his touchdown run with Matthew Shiber, left, and Dylan Staley Friday. (Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

Warwick’s kick was the final score in a sensational Central League tilt and possible District 1 Class 6A preview, as Ridley booked passage into that tournament with a 31-28 win over Haverford.

“It’s a great feeling,” Warwick said. “Nothing I’ve ever felt before.”

Warwick’s three-pointer was one installment in a troika of unlikely heroes for Ridley (6-4, 6-3), which has run the table after an 0-4 start to get back into the playoff picture. The Green Raiders needed a win and some favorable mathematics Friday to stand any chance of leaping from 20th in the 6A power rankings standings into the 16-team field. They left A.G. Cornog Field Friday believing that Warwick kick had secured the berth.

On one side was the 6-foot-4 kicker, who’s been steady on extra points the last three seasons, so much so that Ridley coach Dave Wood had no hesitation in calling his number inside of two minutes. Ridley’s ground game, which pounded out 356 yards, received the ball with 8:21 to play, after Chasen Wint’s second touchdown run brought Haverford even at 28-all. The Green Raiders chewed up six and a half minutes until stalling at the 8-yard line and facing a fourth-and-six.

After a timeout to milk more time, Wood brought on Warwick, with the storm winds at his back and the rain picking up, to line up the potential game-winner and playoff-maker.

“I was on the sidelines, ready to go, I was warming up,” Warwick said. “When I heard it, I just ran out there, tried to block out the noise and do my job.”

“Watching Nate hit that field goal was unbelievable,” linebacker Jalen Hudson said. “That was the game right there.”

When Warwick next put his boot to the ball, it iced the game. He popped up the ensuing kickoff, which fluttered toward Haverford’s Trey Blair at the 26. It traveled at roughly the same speed as gunner Dom DiMatteo, who didn’t allow Blair to pick up the bounce cleanly. While DiMatteo got a piece of Blair, Hudson slid in to capture the ball just shy of a crestfallen Haverford sideline.

“I just wanted to get down there and get down on 10 (Blair),” Hudson said. “That was our main target all game. And watching Dom get down there faster than me and making that play, I knew I had to finish it off.”

Ridley’s third unlikely star materialized via the passing game. The Green Raiders’ option game gobbled up yardage all night — 157 on 18 carries for Elijah Yakpasuo, 120 on 24 totes for Jack Bakey and 71 on 11 carries for Dylan Staley. But faced with fourth-and-seven in the final minute of the third quarter, Bakey took to the air for the first and only time of the night.

The result was a 29-yard scoring connection with tight end Lamont Sudler.

Haverford running back Chasen Wint is stopped by Ridley’s Myles Turner, left, and Tahmir Wilmore Friday. (Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

“We saw Trey Blair sneaking up, and he was eyeing me up,” Sudler said. “He was focused more on me than anybody else, so I inside-released and it was just there. Ran straight and it was just there for the touchdown.”

Ridley led 21-7 at halftime. Bakey had two scores, one set up by a 73-yard dash from Yakpasuo to the 2. Yakpasuo added a 12-year scoring dash.

But Haverford (8-2, 6-2) regrouped in a hurry at halftime in a game that would decide if it would host a playoff game. Within 7:08 of the third quarter, the Fords were even. Jake Ruane, who ran for a 51-yard score in the first, hit Blair with a 71-yard post route for a score on the third play of the half. Then Wint dashed for his first score to even the game at 21.

“At halftime, we had to make some adjustments,” Wint said. “Things weren’t going for us. We know how we play, and we know what we have to do to get the best results.”

Sudler nudged Ridley ahead with 38 ticks left in the third, but Haverford hit back. A 12-play march led to Wint’s two-yard score on fourth down, the big play a roughing-the-passer flag on Ridley that nullified an Evan Bozak pass-breakup.

With everything on the line Friday night, Ridley found a way to get contributions across the board — from Sudler, from Hudson, even from the kicker Warwick, a group united by the common adversity they’ve endured this season.

“The bond is really what brought us together,” Hudson said. “In the beginning, everything was so off. Having younger kids on the team playing, bringing everybody together now, we’re finally starting to click as a team. If you don’t have a team that bonds, even with good players, it’s no good.”

“We felt what it felt like to be 0-4,” Sudler said. “(Haverford) never felt that. They don’t know what it is to get beat in front of everybody, have your family there. But we just kept working hard, moving forward.”

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