In a rare occasion, the impact player was not on the offensive side of the ball.
Enter Surprise Shadow Ridge senior Gabe Jordan, a diminutive defensive back and kick returner. In returning one kickoff 94 yards to set up one touchdown, and a 62-yard punt return for another score, Jordan’s big plays triggered Shadow Ridge to a 49-44 victory over visiting Verrado in a Section III, Division VII game.
If Jordan made an impact on special teams, he saved the best for last.
With Shadow Ridge clinging to a 5-point lead with less than 2 minutes remaining, Verrado had an opportunity to forge into the lead. Facing a fourth and 4 from the Shadow Ridge 17, quarterback Eric Ruiz looked for Xavier James, but Jordan reached over and knocked the ball from harm’s way.
“We were in a basic coverage four and I drove for the ball,” Jordan said. “On the kick returns, I just listened to the coaches on what to do. The guys blocked well and they made it easy for me.”
Stepping in a “big play” situation did not surprise Shadow Ridge coach Rico Tipton. Identifying Jordan as “a bona-fide” player, Tipton put the fourth down effort in perspective.
“They chose the wrong guy,” Tipton said. “Gabe’s strength is his athleticism and he was able to make the play. He’s a player.”
With Shadow Ridge (7-1, 4-1) solidifying its position for post-season play, Tipton rested a number of his regulars and sought to keep key players injury-free. For that reason, a 34-17 lead late in the third period disappeared.
Shadow Ridge running back Chris Salsberry, who scored three touchdown, provided the game-winner midway through the final quarter. Here, he capped a five-play, 50-yard drive when he ran in from 34 yards out and a 49-37 lead.
Before numbers could be placed on the scoreboard, James took the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and cut the lead to 49-44 with 6:17 remaining in the game.
That’s when Jordan stepped forward and preserved the victory.
The loss spoiled a great effort from Ruiz, who went 21-for-38 through the air for 362 yards and two touchdowns. Sparked by Ruiz’s effort, Verrado (3-5, 1-4) picked up 441 yards of total offense and Shadow Ridge gained 252 yards overall.
On the ground, Salsberry picked up 200 yards on 22 carries and those three scores. Ross Dietz gained 79 yards on 13 carries to pace the Verrado ground game.