DUKE CENTER – Friday night was anything but a defensive struggle between Ridgway and Otto-Eldred.
For the Elkers, it turned out to be nothing but a victory over the Terror.
Ridgway was able to withstand a second-half surge from Otto-Eldred to take a 41-32 victory at Otto-Eldred High School in the season opener for both teams.
"If you came to Otto, you definitely got your money's worth, that's for sure," Ridgway coach Mark Heindl said. "The first half they came out, they couldn't do anything wrong. Everything was going our way, we had some turnovers against them, had some beautiful drives. We came out in the second half and made a lot of mental mistakes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They're correctable mistakes, the good thing is we got out of here with a win. We got to work on Coudersport next week."
Ridgway led 27-6 at halftime but four Otto-Eldred touchdowns and 26 total points kept the game interesting in the second half. Otto-Eldred had 310 of its 476 yards of total offense after halftime.
Otto-Eldred started its season with a surprise onside kick which was recovered by Andy Wolff of the Elkers at the Ridgway 47-yard line. Although Ridgway went three-and-out, Ridgway held the edge in field position as punter Adam Gardner pinned Otto-Eldred at its own 1-yard line. The Terror went three-and-out and Ridgway marched right down the field on a 5-play, 51-yard drive. A Zac McKnight 42-yard run set up Ridgway in the red zone as McKnight led Ridgway with 145 rushing yards on 19 carries.
"One minute you think you have him bottled up and the next minute he's 15 yards the other way," Heindl said. "He's the type of kid, he'll tell you he loves every minute of it and he'll credit his offensive line for getting him there."
On third-and-goal, starting quarterback Ben MacDonald found JoJo Jaques for a 9-yard touchdown reception and a 6-0 Ridgway lead. MacDonald threw for 144 yards and was 6 for 11 with two touchdowns and one interception.
McKnight made an impact on the defensive end on Otto-Eldred's next drive as he picked off a Dakota Vaughn pass from Otto-Eldred and returned it to the Terror 5-yard-line. MacDonald ran a quarterback sneak in from a yard out on a fourth-down play for a 14-0 lead and MacDonald found McKnight on a pass for a 2-point conversion.
Otto-Eldred wasted little time in answering, marching 72 yards in five plays and finishing it off with a Sam Colebert 29-yard touchdown run which cut the Ridgway margin to 14-6 after one quarter. Colebert was a dual threat for Otto-Eldred, finishing with 168 all-purpose yards, 90 receiving and 78 rushing.
The MacDonald-Jaques combination struck again on Ridgway's ensuing drive as the sophomore quarterback found the senior wide receiver wide open down MacDonald's right hand side for a 57-yard connection which set up Ridgway at the 8-yard line. Jaques had five receptions for 135 yards to lead Ridgway.
"Those were bigtime connections," Heindl said. "It all starts with blocking up front, the guys holding and sustaining their blocks. Ben made a heck of a pass to JoJo. We capitalized. We did that a couple of times which opened up our running game more. They battled and it showed at the end of the day."
MacDonald threw a touchdown to McKnight on another fourth-and-goal play from the 9-yard line for his second touchdown pass. Angela DeAngelo made her first extra point after this touchdown as Ridgway led 21-6.
Ridgway would add to the lead just before the half. MacDonald found Jaques again for the fourth time in the half on a slant pattern which went for a 47-yard gain on a second-and-10 play from midfield. Sam Delhunty slammed it in the end zone on the next play for the first of his three touchdowns, the 3-yard score putting Ridgway ahead 27-6 with 1:11 left in the first half.
Delhunty also helped on the defensive end as he intercepted Vaughn on the last play of the half to preserve the 21-point lead.
The 21-point lead began to shrink rapidly in the third quarter. Otto-Eldred needed only four plays on its initial series in the second half to go 85 yards. The drive was highlighted by a 63-yard reception by Andrew Lawrence and finished off by a Vaughn 11-yard touchdown run, the first of three for the junior quarterback, cutting the margin to 27-12. Vaughn would run for 52 yards.
Later in the quarter, Ridgway drove to the Otto-Eldred 22-yard line but turned the ball over as Otto-Eldred linebacker Garrett Brugh intercepted a pass and took it 38 yards to the Ridgway 40.
Seven plays later, Vaughn struck again with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the margin to 27-18 after Otto-Eldred missed its third straight 2-point conversion.
Ridgway would steady the ship on its ensuing drive, driving 65 yards on 10 plays as Delhunty ran it in from three yards out to finish the drive. MacDonald converted a fourth-and-1 from the 44-yard line with a quarterback sneak of three yards to keep the drive going. McKnight caught the 2-point conversion from MacDonald as Ridgway led 35-18 with 8:54 left in the fourth quarter.
It took Otto-Eldred less than two minutes for the Terror to return the favor.
Otto-Eldred drove 65 yards on five plays with Colebert catching a 41-yard touchdown from Vaughn. In addition to Vaughn's three rushing touchdowns, he would finish 16 for 32 with 293 passing yards with one passing touchdown and two interceptions.
"They just found seams and our kids were dropping our zones," Heindl said. "It's a credit to them, they kept dragging guys across the middle getting underneath passes and they were 10, 15 yards down the field."
Vaughn ran the 2-point conversion to cut Ridgway's lead to 35-26 with 7:20 left.
Ridgway would then score less than two minutes later, helped by a huge kickoff return from Jaques to the Terror 14-yard line. Otto-Eldred initially appeared to be trying for an onside kick but kicked it to Jaques who was the lone returner for Ridgway. Jaques cut back to his left and made it to the 14 before being tackled.
Delhunty punched it in four plays later from two yards out as Ridgway led by two possessions, 41-26, with 5:42 left. Heindl credits assistant coaches Ray Kelly and Mickey Delhunty for having multiple running backs which can find the end zone.
"You can't focus on one kid," Heindl said. "When you focus on one, someone else is open."
Otto-Eldred would take its next possession to the end zone as Vaughn added a 6-yard touchdown run for his third visit to the end zone. The Terror's conversion problems continued though as Vaughn's pass fell incomplete on the conversion leaving the Ridgway lead at nine, 41-32 with 2:34 left.
Ridgway went three-and-out on its next possession as Otto-Eldred burned its timeouts to get one last chance at it.
Otto-Eldred would turn the ball over on downs as the Terror fell short on a fourth-and-10 with a draw play which left Ridgway able to celebrate.
Ridgway (1-0) is slated to host Coudersport (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday night at Memorial Field in Week 2 action. Coudersport lost 36-28 to Curwensville. Heindl said the road win is an important start to the season.
"It's very important, especially to go on the road an hour and a half the first Friday," Heindl said. "It's a great feeling for our kids. We got a couple days to enjoy it but we got to get back to work on Monday and prepare for a very good Coudersport team."