CAMBRIDGE — For the second straight season, the Ridgewood football co-op is playoff-eligible with five wins.
Now, after picking up their fifth victory in as many games with Saturday afternoon's 20-6 homecoming victory over Lincoln Trail Conference rival Mercer County, the Spartans now have four shots at taking the next step and officially clinching its first postseason trip with a sixth win.
“We don't jump ahead, we don't look ahead to who we're playing in Week 7, Week 8, or whenever,” said Ridgewood senior quarterback Logan Nodine. “It's absolutely one game at a time for us.”
That next game for the Spartans, who are now 3-0 in the LTC as they continue the best start in the co-op's 10-season history, is an Annawan-Wethersfield squad that is likewise undefeated and shares the conference lead with Ridgewood.
“A-W is a very good team; they're very well-respected among us, and among a lot of people,” Nodine said of the Titans, who come here to Goff-Stahl Field for next Friday's potential winner-take-all Lincoln Trail showdown after besting fellow unbeaten Princeville 22-7 Saturday evening.
To set up the showdown, the Spartans first used a second-quarter explosion in which they scored all 20 of their points, and then a second-half defensive effort that turned away several golden scoring opportunities by the Golden Eagles (2-3, 1-2 LTC).
The win was Ridgewood's first over MerCo.
Following a scoreless first period, Ridgewood cashed in on a Brody Mulvaney fumble recovery to go up 8-0 when Nodine (72 total yards) scored from eight yards out, with Colton Stahl running in the two-point conversion.
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With 1:40 left before halftime, Nodine connected with Lucas Kessinger on a 28-yard, fourth-down scoring pass. Less than a minute later, the defense struck when Weston Brown returned an interception 33 yards for the touchdown and a 20-0 Ridgewood halftime lead.
“I'm always looking to get the pick,” said Brown. “When I saw I had a chance, I had to make the most of it. The main thing for us was, we had to hold down the run, and we did a good job of stopping that. Our cornerbacks stayed on their guys, and did a good job of doing that.”
After intermission, MerCo got on the scoreboard on Raven Gutierrez's 1-yard touchdown run just over two minutes into the third, then put together a drive late in the period that reached the hosts' 27-yard line. But on fourth down, Nodine batted down a pass by Eagles' quarterback Matthew Lucas as time expired.
Just over a minute into the fourth, the Eagles had a truly golden opportunity when a high snap on a punt gave them the ball at the Spartan five. However, penalties and a rugged Spartan defensive stand pushed Mercer County all the way back to the hosts' 40-yard line, and it could not regain the lost ground.
“We ended up kind of behind the 8-ball,” said MerCo coach Andrew Hofer. “We had to make some plays in the second half, but we ended up in bad position because of penalties, and (Ridgewood's) defense made some nice plays.”
The Ridgewood defense's rugged stands enabled it to maintain the 20-point halftime lead after the Eagles' defense turned in an equally stout second-half performance, holding the Spartans to one first down and minus-14 yards after halftime.
“We got the energy back to where it was supposed to be,” said Ridgewood coach Bruce Redding. “We got things back on track.”
The Golden Eagles now look to get back on track after back-to-back losses when they host Biggsville West Central (3-2) on Friday.
“We're in playoff mode now, but we'll be OK if we play like we did in the second half (Saturday). You could see the difference,” said Hofer, who got 77 yards on seven of 16 passing from freshman QB Lucas, with Braden Williams notching 72 total yards and Ryan Rillie adding 46 yards on 14 carries.