SPRINGFIELD — The Green Mystique has long lingered over Delaware County's most successful program and in that time, it's been a built-in advantage for the green and white-clad players with the big R on their helmets.
There's little doubt that Ridley has every so often enjoyed the perks of being, well, Ridley. The Green Raiders' allure has led to a few points worth of intimidation in more games than not. There's playing against teams and there's playing Ridley. The Ridley. The one with the highest winning percentage in Pennsylvania history.
That's why what Mike Cropper heard this past week had such a stinging effect. When the Green Raiders were crushed on their home field last Friday by Garnet Valley to fall to 1-2, people weren't shy about letting Cropper know that they weren't sure what this was, but it sure as heck wasn't Ridley football.
"We were getting talked about a lot,' Cropper said. "All my friends, fans, I was hearing so much crap. We really didn't want to hear it anymore. It's not a good feeling and we really wanted to show that we can win.'
It might be time to hold off on the funeral arrangements for Ridley's 2013 season after the Green Raiders tossed up a goose egg in a 20-0 whitewashing of rival Springfield. One and three would have been a death knell, but 2-2, including a 1-2 mark in the Central League, is a heck of a lot more aesthetically pleasing for the guys in green.
After holding the Cougars (3-1, 2-1) to 124 yards of offense, most of them academic with the game in hand, Ridley's defense can finally puff its chest after getting gashed for 331 yards and 42 points against Garnet Valley at Phil Marion Field. Cropper was at the heart of it all, camping out in the Springfield backfield despite routinely garnering double teams at a new position. His move from left defensive end to the right side paid big dividends and helped him find himself unblocked a few times.
"I was on the other side, playing the Stud,' Cropper said. "The coaches moved me over there this week. (Springfield) were going to run it to the other side all the time. I really wasn't expecting to see them run to my side. ... I just had to go after the ball and do what I had to do. It's a great feeling. We knew after the two games that we lost (to Conestoga and the Jaguars), we weren't playing Ridley football. We weren't executing. This week, we stepped it up in practice and executed.'
Yeah, just a little bit. By the time Matt Borchert ended any chance of Springfield making a dent in the scoreboard by intercepting quarterback Charlie Carbin (10-for-22, 53 yards), Ridley had sent its message. Down, maybe, but never out.
"(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Ralph) Batty always gives us a good game plan,' linebacker Lou Harrison said. "He always puts us in a position to make plays. All we have to do is execute and we did that very well. ... We've got to fight for playoffs every game. We kept our heads up, came back this week and got the big W.'
The Green Raiders got that victory via their defense, but three touchdowns from track All-Delco and moveable chess piece Malik Jones weren't too shabby. Jones opened the scoring in the first quarter when he scampered in on a toss from seven yards out, but it wasn't 1:34 later that he showed off his wheels. He streaked down the left sideline and snared a perfect pass from quarterback Collin Wright (7-for-13, 128 yards) for a 70-yard score and from there, it was all Ridley, all the time, deflating the excited Cougars.
"We are young,' Springfield linebacker Adam Krauter said. "We came out excited, you know? It's Ridley vs. Springfield, but it just didn't work out.'
The effect of those 14 immediate points wasn't lost on Cougars coach Tom Kline, either.
"I think it did (take the wind out of our sails),' Kline said. "Our kids were really pumped up for this game and as we said all week, that's not a 1-2 football team. That's a really good football team that learned a lot from losing two games. As I told our kids at the end, let's learn from what they did. Let's learn from our defeat and let's build from this, because I think we're a better team than we showed tonight.'
Jones' hat trick touchdown, a masterfully designed five-yard pitch from Wright with 1:39 to go, put it away, and Malcolm Strand-Young slashed his way to 110 yards on 18 carries, but it was over long before that. The defense made sure of that and made the Green Raiders resemble what they expect to be, or, as Cropper offered up ...
"This is Ridley football.'