This year's Ridge High School Red Devils football team played the final game of the season on Wednesday night against Watchung Hills in an evening that included a tribute to the senior class students on the team, the cheerleaders and band members who made this season happen.
But the pre-Thanksgiving contest couldn't produce another win for Ridge (7-3), which streaked through seven consecutive wins before posting three close losses.
The team played a rescheduled final season game and senior night at Lee Field, a game that was originally was set to be played the Friday after Hurricane Sandy, when power remained out at all of the district schools. The game played on Wednesday included a food drive with the cooperation of both teams to aid N.J. families still affected by Sandy.
In the meantime, Ridge lost a heartbreaking 23-22 contest to Bridgewater-Raritan in the first round of the state playoffs last Friday night.
Watchung Hills took the lead early in this past game by scoring first on a short run, followed by a missed PAT. Ridge senior Evan Skea followed up by scoring on a 9-yard run follow by a Conor Hughes PAT.
Watchung Hills then posted that team's second touchdown of the first quarter with a 56-yard run, then successfully scoring a 2 point conversion. The 14-7 tally held steady into the third quarter when Watchung Hills scored on a 25-yard run and followed it with a PAT.
In the fourth quarter, Ridge mounted a comeback on a reception by Ryan Bell and a 18-yard run by Conor Hughes, with PATs from Hughes tying the score at 21-21.
But Watchung Hills would score their fourth TD of the night, and even failing to make the PAT brought the visitors up to a lead of 27-21.
Ridge mounted a incredible comeback charge as time ran out, the last play from scrimmage coming with just 1 second on the clock. Ridge ended the night, and their last 3 games of the season, with a loss.
Game touchdowns came from Skea, Hughes and Bell. Senior Skea finished the season with 969 rushing yards in 2012.
"It was tough," Skea said afterward. "It came down to a couple plays, a couple calls, a couple things that could have gone our way. It was a close game, hard fought on both sides. Both teams deserved it."
"Tough game" was also the observation of Ridge Head Coach Bill Tracy. "They have a good team. It is just the way it is. It is unfortunate, but we did the best we could."
Tracy said he wanted to thank the team's seniors — "They really were a blessing this season."
"We really wanted to put Ridge football back on the map and they helped us do that. Thank God for those guys. I am really proud of them. They are one of the best teams I have been privileged to coach. They did some really nice things. 7-3 is a good record. Hopefully we will build on it next season," Tracy said.
Looking ahead to next September, Tracy said, "We have some good guys back and coming up. But they have to understand that leadership is graduating right now, this senior class, and they have to assume that role. If they can do that, we can have a very strong season. We are graduating a bunch of really great guys and we will have to replace that leadership."
1) Ryan Bell (28) scampers down the sideline after catching a pass. 3) Tyler Ord (25) gets through the line to get to the ball carrier. 4) Conor Hughes (10) carries the ball through the Watchung Hills defense. 6) Conor Hughes (10) tip toes along the sideline to get a few more yards. 7) Ryan Dell (28) pulls in a Conor Hughes pass for a touchdown. 9) Evan Skea (27) makes one of his carries on the evening.