ALLENTOWN - In reaching the PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal playoff game, Ridley was sparked by a defense that suffocated opponents with sure tackling and rare blown coverages.
Yesterday, against a bigger and deeper Parkland squad, the Green Raiders paid dearly for uncharacteristic defensive sloppiness.
Undefeated Parkland scored three touchdowns of 50-plus yards, fought back Ridley's gutsy second-half comeback, and posted a 35-21 victory at J. Birney Crum Stadium.
"They just had big plays that killed us," Ridley linebacker Andrew Hodges said. "A big problem was that we didn't wrap up on defense. There were too many broken tackles."
Parkland, which has won 31 of its last 32 games, advanced to Saturday's state championship game versus Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Central Catholic topped Harrisburg, 14-6, in yesterday's Western semifinal.
Ridley, which repeated as Central League champion and won its first District 1 title, finished the season with a 13-1 record.
Less than three minutes into the game, the Trojans (15-0) scored on a 72-yard pass from John Laub to halfback Sam Tajiri. Ridley's defensive backs allowed Tajiri to get behind them and into the clear.
Midway through the second quarter, Ridley punter Ekrem Uysaler fumbled a long snap and Parkland recovered the ball at the 2-yard line. Three plays later, Daryl Herod scored on a left-side run.
Down 14-0, the Green Raiders responded with a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Jake Cahill gained a step on Tajiri and hauled in a 28-yard TD pass from quarterback Steve Egee.
But Ridley could not maintain the momentum.
It took District 11's powerhouse just five plays to answer the Green Raiders' score. On back-to-back plays, Laub connected with 6-foot-4 split end Jaleel Clark. The first was for 34 yards. The second was a 20-yard slant for a score that put the Trojans ahead, 21-7, at halftime.
"It was our mistakes that beat us in the first half," Ridley coach John Waller said. "We blew two coverages and we gave them the ball at the 1. If we don't make the mistakes, we're not facing an uphill climb in the second half."
Written off by many, the Green Raiders scored on their first two second-half possessions. Hodges (20 carries for 81 yards) scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter and Egee (17 for 28 passing, 248 yards) threw to Rob Lamey for an 18-yard TD early in the fourth. Egee's two-point conversion toss to Steve Gregg evened things at 21.
But Parkland's size and strength took over. With a beefy offensive line clearing big holes, Tajiri zipped through the line on a buck sweep and raced for a 50-yard touchdown with 8 minutes, 16 seconds to play.
After the Green Raiders went three and out, Usayler's punt pinned the Trojans at the 1. But Laub and company worked their way out of the jam. Then, on a trap run, fullback Kevin Herod went 56 yards for a clinching score with 2:09 remaining.
"We stopped those plays all year," Waller said. "I just think our kids were worn down. It just looked as if we kind of ran out of gas."
Ridley0 7 6 8 - 21
Parkland7 14 0 14 - 35
P: Tajiri 72 pass from Laub (Lawler kick)
P: D. Herod 2 run (Lawler kick)
R: Cahill 28 pass from Egee (Uysaler kick)
P: Clark 20 run (Lawler kick)
R: Hodges 2 run (kick failed)
R: Lamey 18 pass from Egee (Gregg pass from Egee)
P: Tajiri 50 run (Lawler kick)
P: K. Herod 56 run (Lawler kick)