For the first time in the program’s 53-year history, Ridge High School’s football team has completed a perfect, 9-0 regular season.
The expectations of such a talented and experienced team don’t end there, however. No. 1-ranked Ridge wants 12-0, wants to join the 2003 and 1987 Red Devils as a sectional champ.
The pursuit begins tonight in a North 2 Group V first-round game against eighth seed Westfield (5-3), winners of three straight. Game time at Lee Field is 7 p.m, It is only the second time the two have ever played, the first time was in 2008 in a North 2 Group IV first rounder won 49-13 by Ridge.
The Red Devils are top-seeded unlike 2008 when they were third or 2003 when they were seventh, winning at Phillipsburg and Livingston before clubbing Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the section final at old Giants Stadium. They were fifth seed in 2009, but made it to the North 2 IV final where they lost to Phillipsburg.
The 2003 team was considered a long shot, the 2009 team was known as the “cardiac kids” for their knack of pulling games out. These Red Devils are a favorite, arguably the best all-around team to come through a program that began in 1961.
“We are playing better than expected and there really hasn’t been a letdown,” versatile senior Nick Fransese said.
Franzese and many teammates recall a letdown they suffered last season when the second-seeded Red Devils lost a 23-22 overtime decision to No. 7 Bridgewater-Raritan. They used that loss as fuel for this season.
“You really have to prepare for three different offenses,” Westfield coach Jim DeSarno said. “They might run Wing-T, four backs, a spin series single wing direct snap and then a spread. It’s a lot to prepare for and they do everything well.”
DeSarno has been impressed with Ridge senior QB Conor Hughes and his ability to throw long to receivers Franzese and Ryan Bell among others with the rushing game being driven by Liam Derkasch and Matt Soulas. All of them are seniors. The Westfield secondary of sophomore Owen Colwell, junior Matt Catanzaro and sophomore Brett Robertshaw will be tested.
Westfield will present similar riddles. Senior running back Eugene Rawles has run for 999 yards and 16 scores. He ran for four scores and got a fifth touchdown off a screen from Hogge in last week’s 41-28 win at Scotch Plains-Fanwood, where he became just the seventh Blue Devil and first since 1981 to score that many TDs in a game.
“He’s a great runner, good lateral moves, probably the best breakaway back we’ve seen,” Franzese said.
Senior quarterback Chris Hogge has reliable receivers in senior tight end David Kane and wide receiver brothers Dylan and Sean Elliott. Both teams have good linebackers and line play. Seniors Chris Sweeney, Thomas Anderson and Joe Scaglione leading Westfield and center AJ Peterpaul, Alex Heffernan and Winston Zhu for Ridge.