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Saleem, Ridley get back to playoff prep in rout of Harriton

Ridley's Nahaj Saleem, left, seen in a 2020 game trying to tackle Upper Darby's Darryl Pollard-Farmer, has changed numbers, positions and his impact on the Ridley team this season. (Pete Bannan/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

RIDLEY — You’ve got to look pretty far down the Ridley football roster before you find Nahaj Saleem’s name.

He’s still filed under his number from last season, No. 80, a hedge between his two positions on offense. Primarily an extra blocker at tight end, Saleem’s number was as lineman-adjacent as his role, but also not foreign to the occasional pass route.

This year, Saleem opted for a more play-making No. 6. It’s a little easier for opponents to read, too, especially when he’s mobbing a quarterback or streaking down the field after a reception.

Saleem’s duties Friday night in a 70-6 Ridley romp over Harriton were confined to blocking for a run game that the Rams couldn’t stop and disrupting a passing attack the Rams couldn’t start. But in catching a pair of touchdowns in last week’s showdown of unbeatens with Garnet Valley, Saleem showed how special he can be on both sides of the ball.

That privilege required a little campaigning on the practice field and a lot of extra work with Ridley quarterback John Heller.

“It took a lot of proving in practice,” the 6-1 junior said. “A lot of it happened in practice.”

It starts with defense for Saleem, as a versatile edge rusher or outside linebacker. With the Rams (0-7, 0-6 Central) operating out of a pass-heavy shotgun look, Saleem got after quarterback Logan Rothberg at will, contributing a sack and several QB pressures, including on Antonio Saahir’s first-half interception.

Ridley (6-1, 5-1) carried a 372-27 advantage in total offense into halftime, leading 56-0. At the break, Ridley had run 37 plays with 18 first downs and eight touchdowns.

“It was a comeback week,” Saleem said, referencing the 65-37 loss to Garnet Valley. “We realized we did do good things in the first half, but at the end of the day, the score didn’t fall our way. We looked at that, worked off that and brought it back.”

His services weren’t needed in the passing game, where Heller was 8-for-9 for 111 yards. He threw a corner route up for Stephen O’Donovan to run under for an 11-yard score in the first quarter, added a one-yard sneak touchdown also in that 35-point frame and hit Paul Jackson for a 21-yard TD in the second. Jackson also scampered with an inside handoff on misdirection for a 10-yard score.

“He’s our quarterback,” Saleem said of Heller. “We look up to him as much as he looks up to us. We look out for him as much as he looks out for us.”

Tahir Mills ran for two touchdowns, including a 56-yarder on his first touch. He tallied 192 yards on 19 carries and earned Homecoming King honors at halftime. Ridley ran for 381 yards as a team with 524 yards of total offense.

Aubrey Daniels started the scoring with a two-yard score, Owen Bosak (three carries, 91 yards) ran for an 11-yard TD and backup QB Ryan Carroll added a two-yard plunge. Nick Volpone was 10-for-10 on extra points with three touchbacks.

For Harriton, Rothberg (12-for-25, 81 yards) assembled an eight-play march that led to Justin Krebbs scoring on a reverse from the 11 with nine seconds left in the third. Krebbs caught five passes for 33 yards.

After tasting defeat for the first time this season, Ridley is prepping for the playoffs: Taking care of business yes, but also sharpening execution for the postseason. Trying to recapture some of that feeling from last Friday, on either side of the ball, is part of it for Saleem.

“Scoring, that was the best,” he said. “Even the fans all talking and cheering, your teammates cheering, that’s always joyful.”

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