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Ridley scores knockdown in bout with champs Haverford

HAVERFORD >> Dave Wood wasn’t certain how long it would take, when it would happen or how the celebration would unfold. All he knew was that if he were going to help Ridley High return to Central League dominance, there first would be one major correction.

At some point, the Green Raiders were going to have to defeat the sitting champion, a program that their seniors had never beaten, a well-coached growing power. At some point, they would have to beat Haverford.

Haverford running back Mike Romanofsky runs past Ridley linebacker Ryan Gricco during first half at Haverford High. The Fords couldn’t get much past the Green Raiders’ defense in a 7-0 Ridley victory.(Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

Haverford running back Mike Romanofsky runs past Ridley linebacker Ryan Gricco during first half at Haverford High. The Fords couldn’t get much past the Green Raiders’ defense in a 7-0 Ridley victory. (For Digital First Media/Eric Hartline)

That point, Wood figured, arrived with just over five minutes left Friday at A.G. Cornog Field. That’s when he told quarterback Cade Stratton to let it fly and throw it high.

“As much as we pound the ball, sometimes play-action will get one-on-one coverage,” Wood said. “So we went to the tall receiver.”

The 41-yard pass from Stratton to 6-foot-4 Liam Wright down the right sideline would land the Raiders at the Haverford 20 in a scoreless game. Less than three minutes later, Stratton would squeeze into the end zone from a yard away for the only touchdown in a 7-0 Ridley victory.

Though the Green Raiders would attempt just 11 passes, six were complete, all to Wright, none more valuable than that 41-yard connection that finally cracked a strong Fords defense.

The Raiders improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Central in their first season under Wood. Haverford, rebuilding some after its championship season, dipped to 0-2, 0-1 in the conference.

“This league is going to be real close,” Fords coach Joe Gallagher said. “We entered this game and said, ‘We’re in the Central League now. It’s going to be a nine-round bout.’ Tonight was Round 1. That’s all. We lost the first round. We have eight more rounds to go. And we take pride in getting better every week, which I know we will.

“I relate it to boxing. We’re the belt-holders. And until somebody takes it, we’re still the champs. It’s nine rounds. This is one round. We’re still in it.”

Both defenses kept it close, occasionally with big plays, but also with bend-don’t-break resourcefulness, as each team missed a field goal attempt late in the first half.

Haverford had arrived at the Ridley 31 with 7:36 to play, and the Green Raiders held on downs. That gave Stratton a chance to salvage what had been a difficult week.

Ridley quarterback Cade Stratton runs past Haverford's Kevin Odgers during first half at Haverford High. (For Digital First Media/Eric Hartline)

Ridley quarterback Cade Stratton runs past Haverford’s Kevin Odgers during first half at Haverford High. (For Digital First Media/Eric Hartline)

“I had a 101 fever Tuesday and Wednesday,” the senior said. “Thursday, it was about 100. But I just had to hydrate, get over it, take some medicine. I practiced Thursday and felt better and woke up this morning still a little drowsy. But I got over it. It’s game day. And you do whatever you have to do to win.”

Stratton passed for 88 yards and added 40 yards rushing, including the most important yard of the warm night.

“It could have definitely gone either way,” Stratton said. “It definitely gets your heart moving. You just have to do whatever you can to get one touchdown. We knew going into halftime that one touchdown was going to win this game.”

Stratton set that up with his pass to Wright.

“I always tell him, with him, one-on-one is one-on-none,” the quarterback said. “I just put it out there and hoped he would run under it. He did. He made an awesome catch.”

Haverford was able to move the ball at times, particularly behind Mike Romanofsky, who rushed for 89 yards, including bursts of 35 and 28 yards. Quarterback Jake Ruane passed for 101 yards, 64 to Chris Trainor. Jack Farrell and Jordan Mosley made interceptions, and Kevin Odgers made multiple key stops to challenge the Raiders. But it was the interception by Malik Young with 5.5 seconds to play that finally gave the Ridley seniors a victory over Haverford.

“They are a great football team,” Wright said. “We put a lot of work in. It was a great game. Our coaches told us coming into this game that this was the biggest game of the year. They are Central League champions. And we are starting from nothing and have to build something up.

“This feels amazing.”

For Ridley, the challenge continues, with a game next week at Garnet Valley. Haverford will answer the Round 2 bell at Conestoga.

“This was a great high school football game,” Wood said. “Our kids played great. And to put a goose egg up against them in their home opener, it gives our kids a lot of credit.”

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