Gibbons’ big play carries Ridley to victory

RIDLEY TWP. >> Ridley and Strath Haven each had opportunities to land on their feet during Friday night’s football game between the Central League rivals and it was the Green Raiders who were able to take advantage of those chances, coming away with a 40-21 victory on Homecoming Night at Phil Marion Field.

The most dramatic of those plays came during the final 60 seconds of the first half.

After scoring a touchdown to take a 13-7 lead with 2:41 left in the second quarter, the Green Raiders defense forced Strath Haven to go three-and-out.

After the punt, Ridley took over at its 32-yard line. Quarterback Cade Stratton came out firing, first hitting Allen Martin for a 13-yard gain.

After giving up a three-yard sack, Stratton again fired a long pass over the middle that was intercepted by Ahmir Gordon at the Panthers 45.

The 5-8, 155-pound speedster raced towards the corner of the end zone with what looked like a sure touchdown that would give the Panthers the lead going into intermission.

But Ridley’s burner, Malik Young, somehow caught up to Gordon and knocked him out of bounds about 18 inches from the goal line.

“It may have been foot,” Young said after the game. “With my ambitions with football, I was not going to let him score.”

Strath Haven lined up and tried to punch the ball in with a quarterback sneak. Ridley’s line, led by Seamus Boyle, stopped the initial push.

Quarterback Evan Atsaves then tried to reach the over the goal line, only to have the ball smacked out of his hands, into the air and right into the hands of defensive back Gene Gibbons who sprinted 99 yards for a back-breaking touchdown that gave the Green Raiders a 20-7 lead with 30 seconds left in the half. Ridley (5-2, 3-2) never looked back.

“They had a huge interception and got it down to the one-yard line,” Gibbons said. “Coming in on defense, we knew we had to make a stop, we didn’t want them to take the lead. I said to the linebackers before the play to get in there and make something happen and they did. They made something happen. I saw the ball go up in the air, I was fortunate to be right there to catch it and I was fortunate to be able run it back for a touchdown.”

Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy talked about the play.

“It was a quarterback sneak and he tried to reach the ball over the goal line and it came out,” Clancy said. “We had four downs to get in there and we’re hoping that doesn’t happen. It did.”

The Panthers (1-6, 1-4) again turned the ball over on their first possession of the third quarter. The Raiders turned the mistake into another touchdown to make the score 27-7.

Clancy said he was at least glad to see that even after the mistakes, his team came out and for the rest of the second half, played hard and put up 14 more points.

“I thought the one thing they did well was they put it aside and came out and played in the second half,” Clancy said. “And they battled in the second half. The young man (Atsaves) put it aside and put in a good second half. It’s just one of those things that happened and you just move on from there.”

Ridley was led by Young, who rushed 28 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns.

Strath Haven was led by Zach Newlon, who rushed 17 times for 61 yards. Newlon missed most of the first half after injuring his finger on his third carry.

“They’re a very good football team,” Ridley head coach Dennis Decker said after the game. “I thought their offensive line played very well tonight. Fortunately we were able to get a few turnovers and turned the game around.”

Clancy kept things positive despite his team’s struggles.

“Our line’s playing well and our backs are running the ball hard,” Clancy said. “We’re trying to grow as a team … it’s been rough sledding, there are no easy ones in this league.”

Decker was asked if he is starting to think about a playoff run.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Decker said. “We beat Strath Haven tonight, we’re going to concentrate on Penncrest next week. We’ll take it one game at a time and whatever happens, happens.”

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