Most people wrote off the Ridley football team when it dropped its first four games of the season. The naysayers did not include, of course, the program's coaches and players.
"We believed in ourselves the whole time," senior quarterback Jake Bakey said after the visiting Green Raiders surprised Haverford High, 31-28, in Friday night's Central League matchup.
Ridley's sixth consecutive victory unofficially clinched a berth in the 16-team PIAA District 1 Class 6A playoff tournament that begins next weekend. The qualifiers and seeding will be officially announced on Monday.'
"We stayed true to ourselves when things weren't going well, and stuck to what we do best," Bakey said.
The difference against the Fords was Nathan Warwick's 25-yard field goal with 1 minute, 41 seconds to play.
"I'm very excited about how far we've come as a team," Ridley senior two-way back Elijah Yakpasuo said. "We worked hard at correcting the mistakes that were hurting us."
The Green Raiders, with their midline option offense, rushed 54 times for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Bakey scored on runs of 9 and 2 yards.
"Give a lot of credit to our offensive line," Bakey said. "Those guys have been getting better and better each week."
The stout line featured center Sean O'Doherty, guards Gabe Desmond, Damian Pringle and Thomas Bramwell, tackles Matt Shiber and Vaughn Kertis, and tight end Lamont Sudler.
"The O-line knew we really had to dig in and work hard for us to win this game," the 6-4, 295-Bramwell said.
Ridley (6-4 overall, 6-3 league) gained 155 rushing on 29 attempts in building a 21-7 halftime advantage.
Haverford fought back immediately after intermission, using a 71-yard pass from QB Jake Ruane to handyman Trey Blair and Chasen Wint's 6-yard rumble to even things.
"They're one of the better teams in the conference, so we weren't surprised by that," Ridley coach Dave Wood. "We just had to keep battling."
After the Green Raiders went in front on Bakey's 29-yard pass to Sudler, the Fords (8-2, 7-2) made it 28-28 on a 12-play drive that was capped by Wint's 1-yard plunge.
For Haverford, which will make its fifth straight district playoff appearance, Ruane hit on 14 of 25 throws for 206 yards.
Ridley 7 14 7 3 – 31
Haverford High 7 0 14 7 – 28
R: Jake Bakey 9 run (Nathan Warwick kick)
H: Jake Ruane 51 run (Ryan Wellington kick)
R: Dylan Staley 12 run (Warwick kick)
R: Bakey 2 run (Warwick kick)
H: Trey Blair 71 pass from Ruane (Wellington kick)
H: Chasen Wint 6 run (Wellington kick)
R: Lamont Sudler 29 pass from Bakey (Warwick kick)
H: Wint 1 run (Wellington kick)