Ridley High's vaunted defense will face its biggest challenge by far this season, when the Green Raiders play District 11-2 Subregional champion Parkland, in the Eastern Finals (state semifinals) of the PIAA Class AAAA state playoffs, tomorrow at noon, at J. Birney Crum Stadium, in Allentown.
The Green Raiders enter the game 13-0, after winning the District 1 championship, 19-0, over West Chester Henderson last Friday night. Parkland is 14-0, coming off a 44-12 rout of Philadelphia Public League champion George Washington last Saturday.
Ridley will rely on defense again, as it has most of this season, to carry the Green Raiders to their first state title game since 1990. The Trojans were up, 30-0, by halftime against Washington, aided by explosive playmakers Daryl Herod and Sam Tajiri, who each scored a pair of touchdowns.
Parkland runs a Wing-T offense, using traps and sweeps, similar to the offense the Green Raiders have encountered this season against Central League foes Strath Haven, Marple Newtown and Upper Darby.
"They'll run the option, using the edges, but we've seen the Wing-T with Strath Haven, so we're used to seeing that offense and I'm confident in our defense," Ridley center/defensive end Tony Agatsiotis said of Parkland's offense. "I think we might be one of the quicker defenses out there, but we also have tough, hard-nosed kids. We've been told since sophomore year to gang-tackle. We'll try to get as many helmets on the ball as possible."
Ridley coach John Waller stressed the same, that his team not deviate one iota from what has gotten them this far.
"Parkland runs a spread type of attack, and it utilizes a waggle, too, so they're a pretty multiple team that presents problems for defenses," Waller said. "Our plan is the same every week and that's to be focused on assignments the kids have been given. It will be about focus, execution and intensity."
Kevin Owens, Glen Mills' head coach, faced both Parkland and Ridley during the season. The Bulls opened up with Parkland, losing 20-14, on Aug. 31, and also lost to Ridley in the district quarterfinals, 33-14.
"Ridley is a very good team defensively, and what they do best is they follow their assignments," Owens said. "Their coaches put them in positions to make plays and their players are there. You see three, four, five guys tackling the man and that's the sign of a quality football team. They're extremely small on defense, but they have 11 guys who play with tremendous heart and they stop people.
"Ridley is a gap team and they believe the ball will come to them and they make tackles. They rarely make mistakes. When we saw them, I didn't see too many mistakes; they get their assignments done."
What Ridley can't afford are the mistakes it made in the first half against Henderson, when it squandered three chances to score inside the red zone.
"We just didn't execute and made some mental mistakes, which are very correctable," said Green Raiders quarterback Steve Egee, who is receiving attention from Princeton, Columbia, William & Mary and Hartford for basketball. "Hopefully, we won't make them on Saturday. I think we have to keep doing the same thing we've been doing all year, and that's executing and not making any mistakes." *