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Delco Football Notebook: Ridley’s ‘back to basics’ approach is paying off

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What happens when you’re the head coach of the winningest football program in Delaware County and, four weeks into the season, you haven’t won a game? Dave Wood was in that position following Ridley’s 63-21 defeat to Radnor Sept. 14. A week prior, the Green Raiders lost in three overtimes to Springfield.

So, Wood went back to the drawing board.

“We changed up our defense a little bit and, offensively, we went back to running our three or four plays that we need to run in any situation,” Wood said last Friday night. “In practice, we went back to techniques, blocking, working on double teams, ball control and pursuing to the football. We just went back to basics. Very little was spent on offense and defense, 11-on-11 football. It was all broken down into smaller segments and we worked better on technique and responsibilities.”

Since hitting rock bottom, Ridley has bounced back to win three in a row over Lower Merion, Conestoga and Strath Haven. Each of those games was won in blowout fashion. During its winning streak, Ridley is averaging 42.7 points and 407 yards of offense per game.

A once-inexperienced team is beginning to find its identity.

“We’re young in a lot of spots,” Wood said. “Defensively, we have four 10th graders that are playing a lot for us. Our two inside linebackers, (Nicholas) Becker and (Nathan) Desmond, are starting to do a really nice job for us. We have (Jack Wills) playing safety, he’s in 10th grade. We’ve got another kid rotating in on the D-line, he’s in 10th grade.”

The development of senior quarterback Jack Bakey has been instrumental to Ridley’s resurrection. Bakey is effectively running the Green Raiders’ option-based offense. He is smart, fast and elusive, and defenders have paid the price.

“I think what you’re seeing now is that he’s attacking defenders downhill and he’s making defenders make decisions, which in option football defenders have to make a decision and think on their feet, right?,” Wood said. “Tackle the dive, don’t tackle the dive; tackle the quarterback or you have to worry about the pitch. I think, right now, he’s attacking them and is doing a tremendous job at making all the right reads.

“Our offensive line in the last three weeks has played much better. Out of the gate, we played Father Judge, Garnet Valley and Springfield. And then, with Radnor, they beat us but we were coming off a triple-overtime game with Springfield. If we win that Springfield game, it’s probably a different Radnor game. We weren’t ready to play because we were still sulking about losing a triple-overtime game.”

With its inspired performance in recent weeks, Ridley has temporarily saved its season. Maybe Wood and his players deserved some slack in those early weeks. This was never supposed to be a season about winning championships. It was a rebuilding year all along. It took some time, but the Green Raiders’ dedication in practice is paying dividends.

“The young kids, at the end of the day, need to have a win or two to give them some confidence. It doesn’t matter how well we played defensively in the Springfield game, it was a loss,” Wood said. “But the last couple of weeks, momentum is on our side and those young guys are starting to get a lot more confidence. (This Friday) we play Penncrest and everything we’re doing right now is one day at a time.”

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Haverford High senior quarterback Jake Ruane is 69 yards away from becoming the school’s all-time leading passer. The record isn’t that old, either.

Fans of Delco football will remember Jack Donaghy, who is in his junior season at Franklin & Marshall. Donaghy, the 2015 Daily Times Player of the Year, threw for 5,296 yards from 2012-15, third-most in Delco history. Anthony Paoletti of Marple Newtown set the county record last year when he finished his career with 6,106 yards. That is an attainable goal for Ruane, who has 5,227 career yards and will play at least four more games with a playoff berth also possible for the Fords.

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In last week’s football notebook, it was incorrectly stated that Marson Weh of Upper Darby’s four-interception game against Martin Luther King on Sept. 28 was a county record.

Fact check: It was not.

Bill Cubit pulled in six interceptions in Sharon Hill High’s Thanksgiving Day game with Collingdale in 1970. A quarterback and defensive back for Sharon Hill, Cubit threw five interceptions in the same game. He became the first head coach at Academy Park in 1982 before enjoying a long career as a college head coach, most notably at West Michigan and Illinois.

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Sun Valley takes a break from its Ches-Mont League schedule this weekend, but rest and relaxation is the furthest thing on the Vanguards’ minds.

Coach Greg “Bubba” Bernhardt and his team are set to travel to Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio. The Tigers are ranked No. 3 in Ohio Division II with a 6-0 record. Maxpreps.com has them ranked 60th in the country. Massillon, as they are referred to, has scored 316 points this year.

This obviously is a test for the Vanguards, who are reeling from three consecutive losses to Ches-Mont foes. They lost shootouts to Oxford, 50-49, and Great Valley, 49-41, and are among the bottom-five defenses in Delco in terms of yards allowed (368.7 per game).

If nothing else this will be a great cultural experience for the Vanguards, who plan to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, a mere 11 miles east of Washington H.S.

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Penn Wood’s Desman Johnson was selected player of the week by Del Val League coaches at their weekly meeting Monday at Barnaby’s of Havertown.

Johnson passed for 269 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Patriots to a 50-29 rout of Interboro. Johnson has thrown for the most yards (1,595) and touchdowns (16) in Delco.

Other weekly honors went to: Academy Park’s Zion Bradley (running back) and Xavier Newman (offensive line), Chester’s Tylee Williams-Clark (defensive line), Chichester’s Calvin Church (receiver and linebacker) and Zach Taylor (specialist), and Penn Wood’s Omar Ba (defensive back).

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MOVING THE CHAINS >> Nate Decenzi set the Chichester single-game passing record with 317 yards in last Friday’s 52-39 loss to Academy Park. … Originally scheduled for Friday night, Interboro-Chichester game has been moved to Saturday at 1 p.m. … Inter-Ac League play gets under way this weekend. Episcopal Academy hosts Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Friday night, and Haverford School travels to Germantown Academy for a 2 o’clock kickoff Saturday.

To contact Matt Smith, email msmith@delcotimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith.

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