All is right again in the world of Ridgewood High football following Friday night's 24-0 road victory over backyard rival Newcomerstown in the annual Orange and Black Battle at Lee Stadium.
With the win, the Generals clinch the outright Inter-Valley Conference title for the first time since the 2010 season with a perfect 7-0 IVC mark, and secondly the victory gives RHS a return to the Ohio High School Athletic Association postseason following a two-year absence from the playoffs.
"Our first goal is always the IVC, so that feels really good to be back on top," Ridgewood coach John Slusser offered. "Then making it back to the playoffs is another big accomplishment for us, so we're pretty happy right now around here."
Another added bonus for the Generals (9-1) is that for the first time they will host a playoff game Friday when they take on Harrison Central in Division V, Region 17 action.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere Friday night for sure," Slusser noted. "We are really looking forward to hosting a playoff game and I think we are capable of getting past the first round."
First, the Generals needed to take care of business versus the rival Trojans, a series which Ridgewood has dominated in recent years by winning 13 of the last 14 encounters between the schools with only 2013's NHS victory marring the streak.
"We just wanted to come in here and get done what we needed to do and stay healthy," Slusser offered, "and we were successful on both those fronts, so it was a good night."
Ridgewood was able to tack up points on its first possession thanks to freshman kicker Keith Claxon, who booted a 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 RHS lead after an 11-play, 55-yard drive stalled at the Newcomerstown nine-yard line with 3:53 left in the first period.
In the second quarter, the visiting Generals tacked on a pair of touchdowns to build a 17-0 lead at the halftime break.
Newcomerstown was unable to mount any type of offensive attack against the Generals' 'Silver Hammer' defense in part due to way too many self-inflicted miscues as the Trojans were guilty for 12 penalties in the game for a loss of 132 yards.
"We've known all year we can't afford to put ourselves behind the eight-ball with penalties," Newcomerstown head coach Josh Lahmers said. "Especially against a good football team like tonight you just can't shoot yourself in the foot...and that's just what we did all night."
Senior Brice Hammond got the scoring started with a nine-yard TD run at the 6:49 mark with Claxon adding the PAT kick for a 10-0 Ridgewood advantage.
Ridgewood then got back on the board just before halftime, with sophomore QB Kolten Alexander tossing a short three-yard touchdown pass to junior Braeden Smith with just 1:59 remaining off the scoreboard clock with Claxon again adding the PAT kick for the 17-0 margin.
The lone second half points came in the early stages of the third quarter when Smith and Alexander again hooked up, with this scoring pass covering 18 yards to extend the RHS lead to 24-0 at the 9:22 mark after Claxon's third PAT boot.
A season-long trend of tough breaks continued for Newcomerstown on Thursday night in the final practice for the annual rivalry clash when junior starting QB George Brode suffered a knee injury and was forced to miss the game.
Stepping in for his first time as the Trojans' signal-caller was junior Brandan Septer, who normally lined up at receiver but was forced into QB duty.
"I thought Brandan did a real nice job under tough conditions," Lahmers explained. "We knew coming in it would be tough to score against them as they are a solid defense. That just made it more difficult, but I'm proud of the way Brandan responded he did a solid job."
Lahmers also expressed his appreciation for the way his squad had dealt all year with tough times, from low numbers to numerous injuries.
"I've never been more proud of a team than I am of this group," Lahmers offered. "We have had to overcome numerous obstacles and they have met ever challenge and just kept working hard. As a coach, I can't ask for much more than that."
Ridgewood finished with 202 yards on the ground led by Hammond with 85 yards on 10 carries, with junior Trent Harrison adding 52 yards in 12 totes. Alexander, still filling in at QB for junior Jhett Slusser, finished by connecting on 4-of-7 passing attempts for 61 yards with two TDs. Smith led the RHS receivers with three receptions for 47 yards and a pair of TD catches.
After missing the last two games Slusser did however make a brief return for the Generals at quarterback.
"We just wanted to get Jhett back in there a little tonight to get ready for next week," Coach Slusser explained. "We were just trying to shake a little rust off this week so he's more comfortable next week in the playoff game."
Senior Walker McMullen led the Newcomerstown (3-7, 3-4 IVC) ground game with 47 yards on 11 carries, with senor Jason Garland finishing with 40 yards on eight attempts. Septer finished his night by hitting on 2-of-8 passes for 26 yards with an interception.