RIDLEY TWP. — They have the nicknames of a buddy-cop movie and the personalities to match. Ryan Dougherty, also known as Doc, is a fearsome middle linebacker with a penchant for hitting quarterbacks. Mike Cropper, aka Crop, lines up at defensive end and chases everything in sight.
“Dock’s not a real vocal guy, but he can be. He’s a quirky kid and keeps everybody loose,’ Ridley head coach Dennis Decker says. “Crop plays with a lot of energy. He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop. Every play he’s in on the quarterback or he’s tracking someone down.
“Those guys lead by example in the weight room, out on the practice field and in games. It’s great to have them around.’
Together, Doc and Crop have keyed a resurgent Green Raiders defense. A season ago, Ridley endured a difficult campaign, low-lighted by a 42-13 loss to Garnet Valley and a 28-19 defeat against Haverford High that knocked them from District One AAAA playoff contention. They finished with a 6-5 record, the worst mark in years.
It served as the perfect motivation for the returning players.
“When the offseason came around we worked 10 times harder, I think, than the year before to make sure something like that didn’t happen again,’ said Doc, “So we could be feared again. The Ridley defense has a good reputation. We wanted to restore it, and that’s what we did.’
“We’re back,’ Crop added.
Indeed they are. The Green Raiders are surrendering a paltry 11.1 points per game. They’ve shut out two opponents, while three others failed to score a touchdown against the stout “D’. The defense has been particularly adept at stopping the run. They’re allowing just 62.2 rush yards per game, the best in Delaware County.
Effort and a singular mindset are the keys to that success, according to Crop.
“We don’t always have the biggest guys at Ridley. You have to be tougher. You have to be fast. It’s a one-on-one game with us,’ the 6-2, 185 pound senior said. “We’re a team and we play team defense, but it’s me and the tackle and that’s all I’m playing. I’m not playing anyone else and it’s my job to beat him.’
Ridley held the County’s leading rusher, Marple Newtown’s Adrian Sapnas, to 41 yards on 14 carries, his second-lowest output of the season. Upper Darby, another strong team on the ground, ran the ball 41 times for minus-seven yards in the Green Raiders’ 28-14 victory.
What’s more remarkable is that the defense is playing under a new coordinator. Jeff Hamson took over for long-time assistant Ralph Batty, who retired following the 2013 season. The Green Raiders responded quickly to the newcomer.
“Right off the bat, (Hamson) knew what he was talking about,’ said Crop. “His defense works. He fits in with Ridley really well.’
“He’s an easy guy to get along with,’ Doc added. “He makes it as simple as he possibly can so it’s easy for the (defensive players) to do their job as best as they can. They can just focus on playing as an athlete and making plays.’
Hamson also prioritizes the pass rush, a welcome change for Doc. “And he’s more into blitzing, which is a lot of fun.’
Doc excels at finding the holes in an opponent’s offensive line. He’s delivered so many devastating hits on quarterbacks that his cohort Crop struggles to single one out. Then, all of a sudden, Crop’s eyes got big. He recalled a play from last season when Dock dropped Marple Newtown quarterback Marcus Weathers for a sack. “I’ve never seen the quarterback hit so hard,’ Crop said. “The quarterback fumbled and the ball went flying.
“(Doc’s) the best blitzing linebacker we have, and that I’ve seen.’
Doc lauds his teammate with similar praise.
“On sweeps, he’ll have a guy run outside and he’ll chase them down,’ Doc said. “And they’re fast running backs and he’ll get them down as a defensive end, which I think is very impressive. Not many defensive ends can do that.’
Crop wears his effort on his sleeve, quite literally.
“He’s got a sleeve on during games and you can see the blood pouring out of his sleeve,’ Doc said with a laugh. “It’s a common occurrence.’
Crop, who will play college lacrosse at High Point University, nonchalantly glanced at his elbow at the close of practice. He’s bleeding again.
“I bleed every time on the field,’ he said with a shrug.
Ridley (7-2, 6-2 Central League) faces a do-or-die situation Friday. If the Green Raiders beat Haverford (6-3, 5-2) on the road, they’ll clinch a playoff berth. If they lose, their season’s over, save for the annual Thanksgiving date with Inteboro.
But that’s nothing new. Ridley dropped to 1-2 after back-to-back defeats to Conestoga and Garnet Valley early in 2014.
“Ever since we lost the two games, our goal was to win out,’ said Doc.
The 5-11, 195 senior missed one start with a high ankle sprain. Healthy now, he hopes to equal the performance of older brother Shane, a two-time All-Delco who reached the second round of the district playoffs with Ridley in 2012.
“We’re almost there so we gotta finish it now,’ he said.