WEST LAFAYETTE -- A strong defense has long been a staple for the Ridgewood High football program with the Generals earning the nickname of the 'Silver Hammer Defense' among their die-hard fans.
On Friday night, it was that vaunted RHS 'Silver Hammer' unit that brought the hammer down on visiting Harrison Central in collecting a 13-10 victory in a OHSAA Division V, Region 17 quarterfinal match-up.
"Our defense was just tremendous tonight, especially in the second half," Ridgewood coach John Slusser offered. "It says a lot to shut down a talented offensive team like Harrison Central. They had a big size advantage on us but we got the job done with effort and execution."
Following a scoreless first quarter, it was Harrison Central which actually jumped out to 10-0 lead early in the second stanza.
Huskie senior QB Brandon Mitchell scored with a three-yard touchdown run at the 9:13 mark to cap a nine-play, 66-yard drive for a 7-0 lead after Logan Starr added the PAT kick.
On the next Ridgewood possession, the Generals were guilty of their only turnover of the night when RHS junior quarterback Jhett Slusser was intercepted by Tyler Carter of Harrison Central to take over possession in great field position at their Huskies' 41-yard line.
The Generals' defense stiffened and held the Huskies to a 26-yard field goal by Leon Seide for a 10-0 Harrison Central with 4:14 left in the opening half.
That set the stage for what Slusser felt was the key point in the contest for the Generals.
RHS put together a much needed 14-play, 63-yard scoring drive to reach the end zone with just 3.8 seconds left on the clock.
Junior Trent Harrison did the honors with the one-yard plunge to paydirt with the Generals facing a critical fourth-and-goal. Freshman kicker Keith Claxon then got started on what turned out to be a big night for him by adding the PAT kick to pull Ridgewood within 10-7 at the intermission.
"That drive right before halftime was the key point in the game for us," Slusser explained. "It's not like we were playing badly. I felt we played well in the first half, but that score just really jump-started us and we were able to take that momentum into the second half."
Along with a strong effort from the 'Silver Hammer' defense, the Generals also received a huge lift from Claxon and Harrison, who each stepped to the forefront in the second half.
Claxon booted a pair of field goals in the third quarter, with the first deadlocking the game at 10-10 from 33 yards out with 6:24 in the third quarter.
Claxon then added what proved to be the game-winner with a 29-yard kick with 3:05 left on the clock in the third period for the 13-10 margin that held up for the victory.
"Keith really came through with some clutch kicks for us," Slusser added. "Not bad for a freshman. He stepped up and made the kicks we needed."
Helping to set up Claxon for his clutch field goals was Harrison with some hard-running thanks to a strong effort from the Generals O-line.
With the younger Slusser returning to his starting QB role for the first time in several weeks coming off an injury, the Generals turned to Harrison to take the majority of the second half action at signal-caller with direct snaps in a "wildcat" formation.
"Trent really ran hard in that second half, with our offensive line doing a great job of creating some openings for him," Slusser. "You really can't have one with out the other and we got both to be able to control the clock in that second half."
Harrison finished with 160 yards on the ground in 21 carries to lead Ridgewood (10-1), with senior Billy Bailey adding 67 yards on 14 carries. Slusser connected on some big passing plays en route to a 4-for-9 passing night for 103 yards. Bailey hauled in one reception for 52 yards; Smith latched on to a catch for 31 yards and Tanner Shaw finished with one catch for 20 yards.
With the exception of that second quarter, the Generals put the clamps on the Huskies' offensive attack in the second half. Harrison Central was limited to just four offensive plays in the third quarter of play with the Generals dominating the time of possession.
Harrison Central (8-3) managed just 83 rushing yards on 23 carries, with Mitchell leading the way with 26 yards in seven attempts.
RHS also frustrated Mitchell by collecting three interceptions with junior Braeden Smith picking off a pair of INTs, while sophomore safety Kolton Alexander also hauling in an INT.
Mitchell finished 10-of-15 passing attempts for 149 yards with the three big interceptions.
Playing in front of their home crowd by hosting the home playoff game was also a special night for the Generals.
"It was just a great atmosphere tonight," Slusser said. "Our fans really turned out like that always do and made this a very special night for us and we appreciate their support."
Ridgewood advances to meet Wheelersburg, which rolled past Ironton, 38-7 in its opening round contest Friday at a site to be determined.
For now, though, the Generals plan to enjoy this victory.
"We're not even thinking about Wheelersburg right now," Slusser offered following the game. "We are going to enjoy this win for a little wile and the we will get focused in on Wheelersburg. Tonight was just a very special night for Ridgewood football all around with getting the home playoff win with just a great atmosphere."