Ridgewood’s defense carries it past Chicago Christian

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NORRIDGE — The Ridgewood football team scored 24 points Friday night, which often wasn’t enough in recent seasons.

“The last couple years, we were trying to score 35-40 a game because we knew we might not be able to hold teams,” Ridgewood coach Chris Zack said. “This year, we know that if we can get to 21 or so, we should be OK.”

The Rebels surrendered more than 33 points per game in both 2012 and 2013. On Friday, they beat Chicago Christian 24-14 in a Metro Suburban East game.

Ridgewood moved the ball well on the ground against Chicago Christian (2-4, 1-1) — senior Chris Serna ran 20 times for 94 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore Alex Rice had 17 carries for 118 yards and two scores — but the passing game struggled. Junior Chris Jacobsen finished 5-for-22 with 101 yards.

The Rebels were able to overcome that, though, because their defense is much improved.

“The defense picked us up,” Zack said. “We’d stall out, have to give them the ball and the defense would get the ball back for us. They’ve played well all year, and they played really well tonight.”

Led by junior captain Seth Krueger, Ridgewood’s defense features a strong group of linebackers. Krueger plays middle linebacker for the Rebels (3-3, 2-0). His freshman and sophomore years both ended when he tore the ACL in his right knee, yet he’s been able to return and play well. Krueger’s intelligence — Zack said his GPA is about a 4.7 on a 4.0 scale — helps him as the quarterback of the defense.

“I try to get everybody in the right place, make sure everybody knows their assignments,” Krueger said. “I make sure I know all the positions on the field to make sure they all know what they’re doing. And then we just get after it.”

Krueger shares several characteristics with the team’s other linebackers. The group — which includes sophomore Anthony Giovannielli and senior Brandon Cisek, who transferred to Ridgewood from Notre Dame this year — is comprised of players who are in their first year at linebacker for the Rebels’ varsity team. They’re also fast, tough and can deliver big hits — as the Knights experienced on Friday night.

“It’s a different breed of player; a lot quicker and a lot faster,” senior safety Ryan Cabot said of the linebackers. “That’s definitely what defines our team is speed.”

Cabot, who picked off a pass in the first half Friday, is a veteran in a secondary that includes Mike Ortiz, a junior cornerback. Ortiz also intercepted Chicago Christian quarterback Christian Bolhuis (4-for-12, 49 yards) on Friday night.

The Knights struggled to throw the ball against Ridgewood, and the Rebels largely held senior running back Colby Roundtree (26 carries, 106 yards, one touchdown) in check as well.

It was tough for Roundtree to run inside for much of the night thanks to solid play by Ridgewood’s defensive line — it includes junior Vinny Scaletta and senior Mustafa Ahmed — and the Rebels didn’t seem to wear down physically.

That’s another difference between this season and the past when Ridgewood played against bigger schools in the Metro Suburban. The Rebels were reminded of that on Sept. 12 when they played former conference foe Fenton. Cabot and Zack said Ridgewood wore down against Fenton. The Rebels led in the fourth quarter before the Bison rallied to win the Metro Suburban crossover game 34-21.

The conference added teams and was divided into two divisions before the season. When compared to last year, it’s easier for Ridgewood to play defense against teams in the Metro Suburban East.

“The size is a little different with the schools [in the Metro Suburban East],” Cabot said. “These guys aren’t fresh. They’re like us. We’ve got guys playing both ways, so it’s more competitive for us that way.”

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