La Salle let fumble-prone Ridley off the hook too many times in Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal football clash, turning only one of five turnovers, including one within 10 yards of paydirt, directly into points.

But while La Salle quarterback Drew Loughery and company were in a forgiving mood, especially in the first half, the Explorers' defense played at a fever-pitch throughout and allowed the Green Raiders only two trips into the red zone.

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Using the prime field position to full benefit in the second half, La Salle ravaged Ridley for four touchdowns in the final 17 minutes and romped to a surprising 35-7 victory before an overflow crowd at Northeast High's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium.

"It's pretty surreal," said Loughery, who accounted for two scores, both 1-yard sneaks, in the second half. "We set out this season with the ultimate goal of winning a state championship and now we're only six days away from getting a chance to do that."

The Explorers became the first Class AAAA school in District 12's six-year history to advance to the state final. They take on State College for the championship at 7 p.m., Saturday, at HersheyPark Stadium. State College, of District 6, was a 35-13 victor over District 3's Cumberland Valley yesterday.

"This is great for the kids," said Drew Gordon, La Salle's fourth-year coach. "Very few teams get this opportunity. The kids earned it, they really did."

Ridley, which eight days earlier had notched a 19-10 upset win against North Penn to secure its second District 1 crown in three years, lost the ball on fumbles five times. The Green Raiders coughed it up three times in the game's first 21 minutes.

"Turnovers killed us," said Ridley senior quarterback Colin Masterson, who was stripped twice. "We hadn't made mistakes like that all year. We were fortunate that it was a 7-7 game at halftime, but eventually our mistakes caught up to us."

With two turnovers of their own, the Explorers (13-1) contributed to the first-half sloppiness. Following the second, an interception late in the second quarter by cornerback Alex Nicolino, the Green Raiders (13-2) put together a nine-play, 73-yard drive and tied the game 7-7 on Masterson's 2-yard TD slant pass to Nicolino.

Early in the second quarter, La Salle's Patrick Resch recovered a Ridley punt return fumble at the Green Raiders' 10-yard line. But La Salle - hurt on the next play when linebacker Sam Dixon-Dugan dumped Loughery for an 8-yard loss - came away empty when Mike Bennett missed left on a 38-yard field goal attempt.

"It could have been 24-7 at halftime," Gordon said. "I was a little upset at the situation, not at the kids. It wasn't for a lack of effort. I think our kids understood that."

The second-half dominance began when the Explorers, following a three-and-out series for the Central League co-champions, took possession at the Ridley 42 and, nine plays later, went ahead on Loughery's first 1-yard TD keeper.

Loughery's second scoring sneak, early in the fourth quarter, capped a nine-play, 55-yard drive. It included a 14-yard pass to freshman Sean Coleman and 11-yard runs by Sam Feleccia and Jamal Abdur-Rahman.

With the Green Raiders in desperation mode, the Catholic League champs scored twice more, on a 1-yard run by Abdur-Rahman and, after a fumble recovery and 36-yard return by linebacker Anthony Cognetti, on a 9-yard dash by Tim Wade.

Loughery completed 10 of 13 passes for 102 yards. Abdur-Rahman rushed 21 times for 120 yards and two TDs and caught three passes for 20 yards.

Cognetti recovered two fourth-quarter fumbles. La Salle's other defensive stalwarts were tackle Steve Szostak (sack, fumble recovery), end Steve Sinnott, (four solo tackles, sack), and linebackers Ryan Saraceni (five tackles, four solos) and Shane Brady (five tackles, half-sack).

Ridley   0 7 0 0 - 7

La Salle   7 0 7 21 - 35

LS: Abdur-Rahman 1 run (Bennett kick)

R: Nicolino 2 pass from Masterson (Bongiorno kick)

LS: Loughery 1 run (Bennett kick)

LS: Loughery 1 run (Bennett kick)

LS: Abdur-Rahman 1 run (Bennett kick)

LS: Wade 9 run (Bennett kick)

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.