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Ridley holds off Conestoga’s late comeback bid to win on opening night

TREDYFFRIN >> Ridley’s defense shut out host Conestoga for three quarters, then survived a late Pioneer attack to prevail, 21-14, Friday evening at Teamer Field on opening night for both Central League teams.

Ridley head coach Dave Wood particularly praised defensive end Blaise Harris and linebackers Nate Desmond and Nick Becker.

“Harris put on a lot of pressure up front,” said Wood. “And I thought Desmond and Becker did a really good job tonight.

“For our first game of the season, and considering the limited work we were able to do in the offseason, I thought we had a lot of positives tonight and a lot of things we have to correct,” Wood said. “We’ve had some injuries — we had two sophomores on the offensive line — but a win is a win, and it’s a lot better going home 1-0 than going home 0-1.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Ridley moved in for its first touchdown drive. Ridley junior Aubrey Daniels, making his first varsity start at running back (replacing Gavin Kingsborough, who was out with a lower body injury), pounded out several solid gains, then quarterback John Heller scored from the 2-yard line on a zone read. Heller was making his first varsity start at quarterback.

“That [play] was a good read by John,” said Wood. “He made some good plays, some good reads tonight.”

Three plays later, Ridley’s Tahir “Tubby” Mills intercepted a Conestoga pass and raced 30 yards into the end zone to make it 14-0 with 10:41 to go before halftime.

“He made a great one-handed catch,” noted Woods. “You don’t see that kind of a catch too often.”

Conestoga was moving the ball in the first half, as running back James Condi was churning out some solid gains, and receiver Peter Detwiler was making some fine catches of Michael Costigan’s passes. But despite a couple of trips into the red zone in the first half, the Pioneers did not get on the scoreboard and trailed 14-0 at the half.

Midway through the third quarter, Ridley put together a 56-yard touchdown drive, mostly with Daniels carrying the ball for yardage, and the final play of the drive was a 15-yard TD pass from Heller to Anthony Labor.

“That was a nice seam pass up the middle — a play-action pass, and the linebackers bit,” said Wood.

Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Conestoga was trailing 21-0 and faced a 4th-and-10 at the Ridley 35. Costigan hit Detwiler for a 14-yard gain and a first down; then following a five-yard Conestoga penalty, Costigan scrambled to his left and found a wide-open Patrick Nichols on the left side. Nichols grabbed the ball, raced into the end zone, and the Pioneers had cut the lead to 21-7 with 8:03 left.

Conestoga recovered the onside kick at the Ridley 48, then on the next play Costigan hit Patrick Reilly with a well-placed pass down the sideline. Reilly caught it in full stride and raced into the end zone, and following DJ Penske’s extra point it was 21-14 with 7:51 left.

Four plays later, the Pioneers got the ball back again when Max Austin wrestled the ball away from a Ridley receiver for an interception that put the ball at the Conestoga 46.

Conestoga drove down to the visitors’ 9 yard line, and on the next play Ridley sophomore Steve O’Donovan intercepted Costigan’s pass in the end zone.

“That was a huge play, a big momentum changer,” said Wood.

Conestoga got the ball one last time at the Ridley 45. But with 1:27 left, Ridley’s Owen Bosak made the second on his two interceptions, this one at the visitors’ 31-yard line.

“Our defense played a heck of a game tonight, a physical game,” said Pioneer head coach Matt Diamond. “[Linebackers] Pat Nichols and Fred Mucklow really did a good job for us, and when Max Austin pulled the ball out [for an interception] that was a real momentum play for us.

“Peter Detwiler had a heck of a game tonight. We got those two late scores, but we had three other opportunities in the red zone and didn’t finish. We played with passion tonight and I told our kids after the game that if we keep playing with that passion, good things will happen.”

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