Ridgewood altering nonconference schedule after missing playoffs

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Ridgewood football coach Chris Zack said he and his staff knew before the final game of the regular season that the Rebels wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs — even if they beat winless Walther Christian to become playoff eligible at 5-4.

The coaches chose to keep that quiet before Ridgewood’s 45-6 victory in Melrose Park on Saturday afternoon. Afterward, the team gathered in an end zone at Walther Christian and Zack informed them that they wouldn’t have enough playoff points to get into the postseason.

“Our whole goal for the whole year was to make the playoffs,” junior middle linebacker Seth Krueger said. “To come up basically one win short — and [four] points short — was pretty heartbreaking.”

Ridgewood finished with 36 playoff points, which are calculated by adding up the number of wins of a team’s opponents. The magic number turned out to be 40, which was higher than usual.

Zack and Ridgewood athletic director Rob St. John are trying to craft the Rebels’ schedule so that they have a better chance at qualifying in 2015.

This year, Ridgewood played two very different nonconference opponents. The Rebels lost 41-0 to Niles West, which qualified for the Class 8A playoffs, in a lightning-shortened game in the first week of the season. They then trounced one-win Crossroads 47-0 in the second week. Those two teams combined for seven playoff points, while Ridgewood’s five Metro Suburban East opponents accounted for 18 playoff points.

The Rebels won’t play Niles West or Crossroads next year, Zack said. They will play Solorio, a second seed in the Class 5A playoffs that is currently 8-1, in the first week of the season. Ridgewood still hasn’t signed a contract with a Week 2 opponent, but Zack said that the Rebels will likely play one of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

“We’re hoping to have, with our Week 1 and 2 opponents going forward, teams that we know we can battle with and possibly get wins against,” Zack said. “But also [that] they’re going to get some points for us with their victories later in the season that will help maximize our playoff points.”

Zack, Krueger and junior defensive tackle Vinny Scaletta agreed that there are plenty of positives to take away from the 2014 season.

Ridgewood finished above .500 for the first time since 2008 and it took second in the Metro Suburban East by winning four of its last five games. Moreover, the Rebels’ defense — which is slated to return the majority of its starters — improved significantly from 2013 to 2014.

“We had a good season,” said Scaletta, who returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown on Saturday. “We showed a lot of heart after some tough losses. It sucks that we didn’t make the playoffs, but we still worked hard and came through.”

Krueger added that he thinks coming so close to making the postseason for the first time since 2002 will serve as motivation during the offseason.

“If we want a playoff season, we have to work for it,” Krueger said. “Since we were just short this year, I think everybody’s going to be in the weight room right away. We’ll all be doing speed camp. We’ll all be doing everything we can to get better so we don’t have this feeling again next year.”

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