By ROB PARENT
RIDLEY TWP. — It wasn’t quite the lobbying effort often seen during an election season, just a collectively quiet suggestion that didn’t fall on deaf ears because Ridley coach Dennis Decker’s eyes work just fine.
Against a Conestoga team smaller than Ridley up front and missing top defensive lineman Max Dolente Friday night, the Green Raiders didn’t take full advantage of a rather obvious edge.
That led to a few sharp and subtle suggestions at intermission.
“We knew their linebackers weren’t playing too aggressively,” Ridley running back Rich Coia said. “So at halftime, the coaches agreed with us that we had to play power football.”
Leading that effort were seniors Steve Plousis and Matt Sinex, better known as the left side of Ridley’s front wall. Plowing holes through Conestoga’s line, they paved the way for Green Raiders runners Darren Washington and Coia to run wild in the second half of what became a 31-17 victory over the Pioneers.
Washington ran 25 times for 189 yards, 151 of them coming in the second half. Coia was the biggest individual benefactor of Washington’s ball-moving abilities, darting to touchdown runs of 16, 1, 8 and 3 yards. While Washington did much of the leg work to set those scores up, Coia knew it was his blockers who deserved most of the credit.
“Nothing starts without them,” said Coia, who spread his four TDs (and 50 yards rushing) over 10 carries. “The second half, we knew we had to go out there and just pound it. They did what they had to do.”
“We weren’t coming out hard in the first half,” Plousis said. “We were killing ourselves.”
So at halftime, by popular exclaim, the plan would be changed.
“We saw some things in the first half and tried a couple of different (looks) there, but it didn’t work as well as we wanted,” Decker said. “At halftime we made some adjustments, and we were able to run the ball well in the second half.
“(Left tackle) Matt Sinex and (left guard) Steve Plousis are both two-year starters, and that makes a world of difference when you get two seniors like that with that much experience. They said, ‘Put it on us.’ That’s what we did.”
As a result, a Conestoga team that Harvard-bound quarterback Joe Viviano doesn’t allow to quit wore down late for a second straight week. But facing Garnet Valley and Ridley in consecutive weeks early in the season isn’t the best of conditioning plans.
“It’s what the schedule gives us,” Conestoga coach John Vogan said, “and next week we have Marple (Newtown). Three tough, well-coached and physical teams right in a row. But I give our kids credit because they don’t give up.”
Viviano showed his stuff right off the opening kick, driving the Pioneers 58 yards on 12 plays before Ridley finally held. Conestoga kicker Blaise Toroni hit a 23-yard field goal to put Conestoga on the board first.
The Green Raiders had trouble getting started offensively, but they took the lead late in the first quarter when Coia bounced off a couple of defenders and rumbled in from 16 yards. But it would stay that way into the intermission.
“I admit I didn’t expect that,” Washington said.
But the second half was more to his liking, and he kept setting the stage for Coia. He ended a first Ridley drive of the half with the 1-yard plunge, then Conestoga watched as a pop-up on-sides kick was recovered by the Raiders. Coia would soon score again.
“That pooch kick didn’t help,” Vogan said. “We recognized it … we just didn’t execute.”
With the running game in full gear, Ridley got out to a 24-3 lead, but that’s when Viviano kicked it up a notch.
“He beat us last year,” Decker said. “I think our defense did a phenomenal job against him. I mean, he’s a Division I type of quarterback. He’s a smart kid, obviously, going to Harvard. But he’s a kid that could play big-time college football.”
Viviano (19-of-35 for 189 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions) drove the Pioneers 72 yards on only four plays to cut the gap to 24-10 and had them moving again in Ridley territory twice. But a Marcus Burton fumble ended one drive, and then a Viviano pass bounced off a receiver’s hands and was cradled by Ridley’s Mike Smoluk, who ran it back 81 yards to the Conestoga 3.
It was Smoluk’s second pick of the game, and once again, Coia had a touchdown teed up for him. The way Viviano was playing, however, Ridley likely felt it needed all the touchdowns it could get.