BASKING RIDGE, NJ - It took the Ridge football team's offense almost five minutes to finally get its hands on the ball Friday night.
But once the Red Devils did, they couldn't be stopped the rest of the evening.
Ridge scored on each of its first five possessions--and ran the clock out on its sixth--and went on to defeat Hunterdon Central, 23-14, before a big crowd on opening night. Senior quarterback Wes Hudkins 10 of 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns and Jake Beckman kicked three field goals for the home team, which had consistent success converting third-down plays and keeping Hunterdon Central's defense off balances with a deftly executed variety of plays out of its Wing-T offense.
Fullback Christian Sweeney rushed for 100 yards on 22 carries, and Brendan Bell and Jake Hoffman each caught touchdown passes from Hudkins.
"The kids did a great job, Wes, the backs and the receivers, of picking up third downs," said Ridge head coach Bill Tracy, whose team had not practiced in pads since last Saturday due to the heat wave during the week. "We also have all new kids on the offensive line, and the really applied themselves tonight."
Hunterdon Central moved 70 yards in six plays to score off the opening kickoff and take a 7-0 lead on Clayton Lancaster's 17-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Murphy on third down with 8:22 left followed by a successful point-after kick.
Hunterdon Central didn't have another first down the rest of the first half.
Ridge took over and moved 82 yards in nine plays, scoring on Hudkins' 44-yard bomb to Brandon Bell down the left sideline with 2:00 to go followed by Beckman's PAT for a 7-7 tie. Ridge converted a pair of third downs on the drive. The touchdown came on a second-and-10 call in which Hudkins executed a picture-perfect play-action fake that Hunterdon Central bit on, leaving Bell wide open deep down the field.
"We practiced that play," Bell said. "I did my route and then I saw a lot of open 'grass' in front of me."
On its next drive, Ridge extended the possession on a fourth-and-four, 23-yard completion from Hudkins to Nolan Haddad to the 9-yard line. That possession resulted in the first of Beckman's three field goals, a 25-yard boot for a 10-7 lead with 5:34 left in the half.
Beckman nailed a 33-yard field goal shortly before halftime to extend Ridge's lead to 13-7.
"Beckman is a hard-working kid who's got a really smooth 'golf' swing when he kicks," Tracy said.
Ridge then consumed nearly half of the third quarter with an 11-play, 68-yard drive off the second-half kickoff. The drive featured a 7-yard gain by Sweeney out of a fake punt formation on fourth-and-one at midfield. Hudkins closed out the drive with a 19-yard TD pass to Hoffman with 6:32 to go in the third quarter for a 20-7 lead.
"Wes is a multi-sport kid who is a great lacrosse player on a great lacrosse team at Ridge," Tracy said. "But he's one of the top guys on our team, too. He is an intense competitor, yet he always has a smile on his face."
Hunterdon Central finally got back to asserting itself on the next drive, on which sturdy back Will Ezema carried the ball on all seven plays of the drive for 61 yards, scoring from 10 yards out with 2:47 left in the third to bring HC within 20-14.
But Hunterdon Central could draw no closer, because the visitors could not stop the Ridge Wing-T all night. Ridge marched from its own 20 back into Hunterdon territory in 10 plays to set up a 34-yard field goal by Beckman with 9:46 left to boost the lead to nine points.
On what turned out to be Hunterdon Central's final possession of the game, Bell made a a bone-crunching stop on third down at the Ridge 21-yard line to force HC into attempting a field goal with 5:35 left. But the snap went awry, Ridge recovered and was able to run out the clock.
"We have a lot of new kids out there who were practicing all summer in very hot weather," Tracy said. "You saw our team bend, but fight back. They have an inner resolve."
Haddad finished with four receptions for 79 yards and eight carries for 37 yards, giving him 116 total yards of offense.
(Photos by Guy Kipp)