Much has been made of the Ridge High School football team’s potent offense, but the Red Devils’ defense is just as nasty, as North Hunterdon discovered Friday night.
Ridge intercepted four passes and recorded three sacks on the way to a 38-12 triumph on the road, improving its record to 5-0.
“Defense played great tonight,” said Ridge senior Ryan Bell, who intercepted two passes and also caught two touchdown passes. “In the second half we were able to shut them down and get some turnovers, and that was huge.”
North Hunterdon (3-2) hung around for a half, trailing just 17-12 at the break. But on the third play of the third quarter Marc Monks was intercepted by Conor Hughes – his opposite number at quarterback – and Ridge punched it in two plays later as Matthew Soulas rushed for a 16-yard score around left end.
After Ridge’s defense forced a punt, the Red Devils needed six plays to move into position for a 36-yard scoring pass from Hughes to Bell. Bell caught the ball down the right sideline and broke three tackles as he rumbled in for the backbreaking score.
“Conor threw me a great pass, and I just kept my feet moving and was able to break a few tackles and make a play,” Bell said.
Hughes called the effort “spectacular.” It put Ridge up 31-12 with 3:45 left in the third quarter and quieted a large, loud crowd at Singley Field.
“It’s amazing how many guys I have to throw to,” Hughes said. “They’re all great athletes. They’re all kids I can throw the ball up to and trust that they’ll be able to come down with it.”
Hughes was typically splendid, completing 15 of 24 passes for 223 yards and two scores. He also opened the scoring by converting a 32-yard field goal, and he intercepted two passes from his defensive back position.
“Conor is amazing,” Bell said.
Bell matched him on this night, finishing with 110 yards on eight receptions. On the defensive side, he returned his first interception 45 yards.
“I thought I would have the most interceptions on the team tonight,” Hughes said with a laugh. “Our secondary has been very strong. We have very experienced kids.”
North Hunterdon’s Monks, who is one of the better passers in the Mid-State 38 Conference, ended up going 19 of 36 for 200 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions. Ridge’s defensive front also acquitted itself well, holding North Hunterdon to 74 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Ridge’s ground game, meanwhile, compiled 215 yards on 31 attempts. Liam Derkasch led the way with 100 yards on 14 carries. The versatile Nick Franzese added 56 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards.
About the only thing that went wrong for Ridge was a botched punt snap in the first quarter that led to North Hunterdon’s first touchdown. But the Red Devils’ special teams’ unit made up for it later in the half, converting a fourth-and-4 on fake punt. That led to their second touchdown.
“If someone is not doing well one night, someone else can step up and make plays,” Bell said.
It seemed like everyone made plays for Ridge on Friday night.
R – FG Hughes 32 yards
R – Derkasch 2 run (Hughes kick)
NH – Marron 2 run (kick failed)
R – Bell 28 pass from Hughes (Hughes kick)
NH – Fogel 6 pass from Monks (pass failed)
R – Soulas 16 run (Hughes kick)
R – Bell 32 pass from Hughes (Hughes kick)
R – Franzese 33 run (Hughes kick)
RUSHING: R – Derkasch 14-100, Soulas 7-53, Franzese 6-56, Hughes 4-6; NH – Ditzel 12-31, Marron 4-22, Monks 6-21.
PASSING: R – Hughes 15-24-0-223; NH – Monks 19-36-4-200.
RECEIVING: R – Bell 8-110, Franzese 4-46, Derkasch 1-27, Chiriaco 1-15; NH – Magaleski 4-74, Fogel 8-70, Meyer 3-24, Ditzel 2-16, Zandanel 1-10, Schaedel 1-8.