Tortello’s score makes for emotional night for Ridley

LOWER MERION — Ridley was the most disinterested a team could be after a convincing 47-20 Central League victory over Harriton Friday.

The Green Raiders, who won their fifth straight, were more focused on what happened with 2:42 left in the game, when John Tortello, the team manager and uber-popular student, cruised in for an 18-yard touchdown. The moment didn’t have any bearing on the outcome, but it meant more than a win for every player on Ridley.

“Probably one of the best moments of my life,’ offensive lineman Pat Najmola said. Tortello, who is autistic, has been a part of the program for the last few years. Ridley coach Dennis Decker wanted to get him into a game, though. First, he needed a helmet that would fit Tortello. Ridley didn’t have one big enough.

Monday, at the weekly coaches meeting, Decker got the number for Philadelphia Eagles president Don Smolinsky through Harriton coach Justin Mellor. Smolinsky’s son, Jake, plays for Harriton. The Eagles were more than willing to provide Tortello with a proper helmet. Before the start of the second half, with Ridley ahead, 34-7, his teammates started strapping it in for him.

Tortello looked out of place with Eagles wings on his helmet, not the Ridley “R,’ but it mattered little. After lining up out wide for a few plays, Tortello became a fullback. He took the handoff, and with Harriton’s defense encouraging him along with this teammates, scampered in for the touchdown. His entire bench came out to mob him on the field.

“That was just great,’ Tortello said. “I can’t put it into words.’

A busy man after the game, Tortello was posing for pictures with seemingly everyone. “Big John,’ as they call him, was the most popular dude on the field. His coach couldn’t have been happier.

“John’s a big part of our team,’ Decker said. “You got to see the emotion when he scored, the whole team ran out there.’

The touchdown was one of many on the night for Ridley (6-2 overall, 5-2 league), which needed this one to remain in the playoff picture. It led 28-0 by the midway point of the second quarter via three consecutive Dasante Callis rushing touchdowns, plus one from backfield mate Malik Young.

Callis had 96 yards on 13 carries and was done early in the second quarter. Young had 150 yards on 18 carries, adding another touchdown during the second half. In all, Ridley rushed for 333 yards and had 362 yards of total offense.

“We played well,’ Decker said. “I think we had a great week of practice, we did what we needed to do.’

Harriton (1-7, 1-6) moved the ball effectively at times, as Patrick Stewart threw for 245 yards and two scores — one to favorite target Jack Veasey, who caught eight balls for 141 yards. Stewart was picked off three times (Ridley also forced a fumble), including a 60-yard scoring return from Gene Gibbons.

That pick six came 19 seconds before halftime and allowed Tortello to have his moment late in the second half. It was one that he, and his teammates, will never forget. The win was nice, too.

“It’s just another step on the ladder,’ Najmola said. “We know we wanna win out.’


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