Dennis Decker reeled off all the possible reasons his Ridley team could fumble five times in a 35-7 blowout at the hands of La Salle yesterday in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at Northeast High.
The first-year coach never came up with a definitive answer.
"Was [La Salle] hitting harder? I don't know," Decker said.
"I don't know if it was lack of focus or lack of concentration. But I've never seen us put the ball on the floor five times."
In Ridley's upset of then-undefeated and top-ranked North Penn to win the District 1 crown last week, it was the Green Raiders who played nearly mistake-free football and forced North Penn into committing three turnovers.
This was the exact opposite.
Ridley lost five fumbles - three while in La Salle territory, one at midfield, and another on a muffed punt.
Not surprisingly, the turnovers were drive-killers, forced the Ridley defense to spend more time on the field, and enabled La Salle to take firm control in the second half.
The mistakes cost Ridley a chance to play in the state title game for the first time since 1990, when Decker was quarterback instead of coach.
"They did some good things on defense," Decker said of La Salle. "We lost to a better football team today."
While the Explorers did significantly limit quarterback Colin Masterson's ability to throw - the senior finished just 11 of 27 for 131 yards - Ridley did enough on its own to limit scoring chances.
Near the end of the first quarter, with La Salle ahead, 7-0, Masterson led the Green Raiders' first sustained drive into La Salle territory. On a second and 10 from the La Salle 37, Masterson scrambled and fumbled after taking a hit from safety Shane Brady.
In the first half, the talented Ridley defense did not allow the turnovers to make a difference. But the added strain of being on the field for an extended amount of time eventually wore down the Green Raiders.
"We spent a lot of time on the field," junior linebacker Sam Dixon-Dugan said. "It takes the wind out of you. You got to go back again and again. But still, we should have played with some intensity."
After Masterson's fumble, the Ridley defense responded to force a La Salle three-and-out. But Norm Donkin muffed the punt, and La Salle recovered at the Ridley 10-yard line. The Explorers didn't score, but the situation took the energy of another outstanding effort by the Green Raiders' defense.
Late in the first half, with Ridley mounting another possible scoring drive, sophomore tailback Jalen Randolph fumbled at the La Salle 19-yard line.
La Salle scored off just one Ridley turnover - the fifth and final one with time winding down in the fourth quarter. But the Green Raiders' offense never clicked, a result of not being able to sustain drives.
"It just killed the momentum," wide receiver Alex Nicolino said. "Once you turn the ball over, it's hard to keep your head up and keep the momentum going. Now they have the ball and start driving.
"You can never win a game turning the ball over five times. We just beat ourselves up."