DiGIOVANNI: In Ortega’s Coatesville program, even a ‘rebuilding’ season is a nightmare for opponents

There has been nothing normal about 2020 for anyone.

That much is clear just from the high school football season, alone.

The everyday surprises of this year reached out to Oxford last week, which had to postpone a game with Sun Valley because of a player potentially being exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 virus.

Fortunately, there were no positive tests in the program, which allows the Hornets to try again this week (at Unionville). But it only shows how the better safe than sorry mindset has permeated coach and athletic director offices as they try to help their teams stay healthy.

One thing that has remained the same is the Coatesville Red Raiders, under head coach Matt Ortega, are again a force not only in the Ches-Mont League but in District 1 and the entire state. Saturday night proved that as a supposedly “rebuilding” Red Raider roster wore down defending District 1 champion Downingtown West, 22-14.

What was different about this 2020 edition of Coatesville football was the way the Red Raiders moved to 2-0 on the abbreviated season. No, Coatesville does not have the quick strike capability it posessed with Ricky Ortega, Aaron Young and Dapree Bryant, who wrecked opposing defenses to the tune of more than 45 points per game the past four seasons.

This Coatesville win was football the old fashioned way. Good, tough, inside running by Dametrius McClain-Jackson and Ashon Wesley behind a big punishing offensive line that seemed to take the life out of the Downingtown West defense.

And the Coatesville defense held the Whippets to just 152 total yards of offense and a meager two first downs in the decisive second half when Coatesville took over the game. The Red Raiders fly to the football and got great linebacking play the entire night, sacking Whippet quarterback Evan Wickersham three times and forcing the Whippets junior to run for his life for four quarters.

In what many considered a rebuilding year, no one should be surprised at the Red Raiders’ 2-0 start. Under Ortega the last four years, Coatesville has made three appearances in the District 1 Class 6A title game, and won two of them, just a few years after capturing the 2012 District 1 title under the talented and driven head coach.

With only four teams qualifying for the district playoffs in this crazy and short season, a Ches-Mont League team will have to go 4-0 and hope they get some luck to qualify for the bracket. And right now, the only one that can do that, at least in Class 6A, would be Coatesville.

But, after the big win over Downingtown West, Ortega just wanted to praise his players for simply competing this season under very tough circumstances. The Red Raider boss has always deflected praise away from himself and put it on the kids.

But, if you doubted that Coatesville could turn “rebuilding” into a playoff berth, you haven’t been paying attention to what Ortega has built at Coatesville. This was never about a start quarterback (Ortega), or a speedy wideout (Bryant), or a lightning-fast running back (Young). It’s about how a man from central Pennsylvania came on board and brought back the glory years Coatesville had not seen since head coach Jack Helm won the 1993 District 1 title.

No, Coatesville is not a lock for the playoffs. The Red Raiders will face their toughest foe of the season as a quality Downingtown East team invades Red Raider Stadium Friday night.

Yes, everything on any day is up in the air this crazy and unpredictable season. What is not up for discussion is that the Red Raiders did not go away when their bevy of star players graduated last year.

The same Coatesville pride and passion is there, and maybe more importantly, Ortega is still in charge of the Red Raiders. Yes, Downingtown East will likely be a tougher test than a Downingtown West playing its first game of the year. But, people and teams better get used to the fact that Coatesville is still Coatesville and for a long time now that has been more than enough.

Peter DiGiovanni covers high school football for The Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can email him at pdigiovanni07@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteDLN.

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