BASKING RIDGE, NJ – After just over six months without any NJSIAA sanctioned sporting events, the fall 2020 football season kicked off for Bridgewater-Raritan at Ridge Friday.

Like many other high school teams across the Garden State who were fortunate to have the opportunity to play in a much later Week 1 than usual, given the natural possibility of future schedules potentially being affected by COVID-19, Ridge pushed up its Senior Night to its home opener against the Panthers.

Ridge certainly made the most its first of hopefully many more uninterrupted games that certainly will not be taken for granted in 2020.

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The Red Devils (1-0) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and never looked back. Ridge running back Lucas Hudkins (’22) led the way with 18 carries for 179 yards and four touchdowns: one in each quarter, while receiver Luke Roberts (’21) added four catches for 93 yards and two more scores for Ridge from the arm of Michael Olivo (’22). The Red Devils ultimately put up 397 total yards of offense in what ended up being a 42-14 victory over Bridgewater-Raritan (0-1).

While the Panthers bounced back from a slow start in the game’s first 19 minutes and finished with 273 total yards of offense, including 12 carries for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns by Ryan McKinney (’21), Bridgewater-Raritan’s early three-score deficit ended up being costly. Ridge’s defense held Bridgewater-Raritan to 20 yards in the game’s opening quarter before allowing an average of 84 yards of offense by the Panthers in each of the remaining three periods.

Despite nearly 700 yards of total offense by both teams, it was a big defensive play for Ridge early in the fourth quarter that ultimately halted a burst of momentum by Bridgewater-Raritan, which ended up being the difference on opening night.

(DISCLAIMER: All stats contained in this recap are unofficial stats.)

FIRST QUARTER
Panthers 0, Red Devils 14

Bridgewater-Raritan won the opening coin toss, elected to receive the game’s opening kickoff, and quarterback Brady Kurdyla (’22) and the Panthers’ offense took the field to open 2020.

After a first-down pass to tight end Bryce Myers (’21) on the game’s third play, which moved the Panthers to their own 40, an eventual third-down sack by Ridge’s Andrew Taddeo (’21) forced a punt. Ridge quarterback and the Red Devils’ offense then took the field for the first time, and while a couple of penalties led to a 3rd and 20 from the Panthers 42, Olivo threw a 42-yard strike to Luke Roberts, who took the reception up Ridge’s home sideline for the game’s first score with 7:47 left in the quarter.

With his team trailing 7-0, Kurdyla then began to march the Panthers down the field, running for 14 yards and a first down on the first play of the ensuing drive. A roughing the passer penalty then ultimately set up Bridgewater-Raritan near midfield, where the Panthers’ drive would ultimately stall.

However, Ridge’s Jacob Schlemovitz (’21) blocked the ensuing punt, giving the Red Devils a short field and eventually leading to a two-yard touchdown run for Lucas Hudkins for his first of four scores of the night to extend Ridge’s lead to 14-0 with 3:19 left in the period.

Olivo began another promising drive for the Red Devils as the first quarter came to a close in Basking Ridge, as he tossed a 17-yard screen pass to Roberts to set up his team at midfield to open the second quarter.

SECOND QUARTER
Panthers 7, Red Devils 21

Ridge ultimately cashed in for the third time in as many drives to start the contest.

Hudkins’ first run of the period ended up being good for a 22-yard score for Ridge: his second touchdown of the night, extending the Red Devils’ lead to 21-0 with 10:11 to go in the half.

While the Panthers went three and out on their ensuing drive and Ridge again put itself in position for a potential fourth scoring drive, Bridgewater-Raritan’s defense ultimately jump-started the Panthers with a 4th and 1 stop at its own 39.

Immediately afterward, in just two plays, the Panthers tripled their 20-yard net offensive output from the first quarter. Kurdyla took off for a 30-yard run, and Ryan McKinney bursted through the Red Devils’ defensive line right up the middle for a 31-yard run to the house, cutting Ridge’s lead to 21-7 with just under five minutes to go in the half.

With Ridge driving down to the Panthers 25 on its next drive, Bridgewater-Raritan linebacker Mike Winchock (’21) sacked Olivo for an 8-yard loss to force a 4th and 4 pass instead of a potential field-goal attempt. McKinney then intercepted the pass attempt and returned the ball to the Panthers 35 to keep Ridge off of the scoreboard with under 30 seconds to go in the half.

Kurdyla began to march the Panthers down the field with another big first-down run as time expired a short time later, giving Bridgewater-Raritan some momentum down 21-7 heading into the locker room as time expired in the half.

At the half, Ridge outgained Bridgewater-Raritan 228-101 in net total yards.

THIRD QUARTER
Panthers 14, Red Devils 28

With Ridge receiving the second-half kickoff, the Red Devils took advantage.

A 32-yard run by Hudkins immediately set the Red Devils up in the red zone, ultimately leading to his third touchdown run of the night from eight yards out with 8:59 to go in the third quarter and extending Ridge’s lead to 28-7.

Both teams came up empty on their ensuing drives, but the Panthers cut into Ridge’s lead on their next drive.

Beginning at its own 30 with 4:46 left in the third quarter, Bridgewater-Raritan just needed 79 seconds to march down to the goal line. A pair of five-yard runs by McKinney, a 27-yard catch for Miftar Hasanaj (’21), and a big 29-yard by McKinney quickly gave the Panthers a first and goal from at the 1-yard line. McKinney eventually punched it in for his second score of the night, getting the Panthers to within 28-14 with 2:31 left in the period.

Ridge set itself up with a big first down at midfield as time expired in the period, and quickly needed a big play to halt Bridgewater-Raritan’s momentum heading into the final 12 minutes of regulation.

FOURTH QUARTER
Panthers 14, Red Devils 42

With the Panthers on a 14-7 scoring run heading into the final period and with all of the game’s momentum, Bridgewater-Raritan cashed in on a couple of Ridge penalties and took over at its own 25 with 11:03 to play.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Ridge got the big play it was looking for, as Harry Hagerman (’22) pounced on a snap that sailed into the Bridgewater-Raritan backfield, which set the Red Devils up with a first and goal from the Panthers 10. One play later, Olivo found Roberts in the middle of the end zone, and Roberts’ 10-yard touchdown reception (his second of the game) instead extended Ridge’s lead to 35-14 with 10:15 to play.

Bridgewater-Raritan certainly did not go away quietly, though, as a 44-yard pass from Kurdyla to Hasanaj quickly put the Panthers back in Ridge territory. The Red Devils ultimately took over on downs and extended their lead to 42-14 on a 25-yard exclamation-point fourth touchdown run by Hudkins with 3:25 to play to put the game away.

With their 42-14 victory over the Panthers, Ridge improved to 1-0 to open the 2020 season, while Bridgewater-Raritan fell to 0-1.

Ridge outgained Bridgewater-Raritan 397-273 in net total yards, though the Panthers outgained the Red Devils by a slim margin of 172-169 net total yards in the second half.

KEY STATS AND TAKEAWAYS:
(DISCLAIMER: As mentioned above, all stats contained in this recap are unofficial stats.)

Ridge’s Lucas Hudkins certainly stole the show with his four touchdown runs and 188 total yards of offense for the Red Devils. Quarterback Michael Olivo, who passed for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns of 42 and 10 yards to Luke Roberts, further helped Ridge make a statement on opening night. Barring any future schedule adjustments, Ridge will alternate between road and home contests against Elizabeth (away), St. Joseph (Metuchen), Westfield, Union, and Hillsborough in the rest of their six-game 2020 regular season.

It is never an easy task for any team to begin a campaign against Ridge, let alone coming off of one of the craziest offseasons anyone in the Garden State can remember given how the year 2020 has been. While the Panthers got off to a slow start in what ended up being a season-opening 42-14 loss at the Red Devils, they will definitely carry some momentum into Week 2 based on their results in the second, third, and fourth quarters.

A total of 253 of the Panthers’ 273 total yards came after the first quarter, including three deep passes by Brady Kurdyla that each were good for an average of 34 yards per completion. This included a pair of second-half catches of 27 and 44 yards by Miftar Hasanaj, who finished with five catches for 77 yards after being held to one two-yard catch in the first half. A few more deep passes in very tight windows against Ridge’s secondary also just came up short.

Furthermore, Panthers running back Ryan McKinney finished the contest with 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns, netting 78 rushing yards on eight carries in the final three periods after being held to a net loss of four yards by Ridge’s defensive front in the first quarter on his four first-quarter carries.

One year ago, Ridge also jumped out to an early 24-0 lead before eventually winning 34-14 against the Panthers at home. In their 2020 opener, Ridge again got off to a fast start that was the difference on Friday night. This time, they opened with a 21-0 lead before the Panthers settled in, but Bridgewater-Raritan put themselves in position to rally being down only two scores. The fourth-quarter turnover forced by Ridge set the Red Devils up to close the game out the rest of the way. Including the resulting 10-yard touchdown pass from Olivo to put Ridge up by three touchdowns at this point, three of Ridge’s six scoring drives started in Panthers territory.

This also included the Red Devils’ first two scoring drives of the game, as blocked punts by Ridge’s special teams gave them short fields and the key early momentum.

In their 2020 meeting, Bridgewater-Raritan managed to make it a two-score game against Ridge on the road heading into the final period. Although the 28-point final margin of victory was bigger in 2020 for the Red Devils than the 17-point margin of victory by Ridge a year earlier, they led by at least three scores for that entire 2019 contest.

NEXT UP:
The 2020 home opener for Bridgewater-Raritan (0-1) will take place Oct. 9 at John Basilone Field against Union. Kickoff against the Farmers will be at 7 p.m. This will be a rematch of a shootout in 2019 won by Union by a final score of 51-35 also at John Basilone Field.

Barring any future schedule adjustments, the Panthers’ remaining 2020 regular season schedule is as follows:
-Fri 10/9: vs. Union (7 p.m.)
-Fri 10/16: vs. Westfield (7 p.m.)
-Fri 10/23: at Elizabeth (7 p.m.)
-Fri 10/30: vs. St. Joseph (Metuchen) (7 p.m.)
-Fri 11/6: at Phillipsburg (7 p.m.)

For detailed Bridgewater-Raritan Panthers Athletics schedules, information, and game locations, please see https://bridgewaterraritanhighschool.bigteams.com/.

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