Jake Raff’s family may actually see him this week.
“I don’t think in my entire life playing football I’ve gone 0-3,” said Raff after helping Allentown to its first win, 28-14, over host Lawrence Friday night. “It feels really good to win. I haven’t had this feeling since last season.
“I was going home after these games, obviously I was angry. I was just sitting in my room, all quiet, eating, watching film. They’ll all see me 100 percent more now.”
The Cardinals saw way too much of Raff, who caught 9 passes for 154 yards in helping Allentown to a balanced offensive attack. Dan Merkel threw for 202 yards, and the Redbirds 171 rushing yards came from Merkel (71) and freshman Dan Cruz (100).
Cruz, who scored his first two career touchdowns, looked good in his first start at Notre Dame last week and carried it over against Lawrence.
“For sure that gave me a lot of confidence,” Cruz said. “That was my first start in over 300 days. I just get motivated every day. I was a transfer from Robbinsville in seventh grade, a lot of people didn’t really know me here. I just try to prove myself and play my heart out.”
He has proven himself to Drew Lachenmayer.
“Dan Cruz is a football player,” the Redbirds coach said. “I told him ‘I don’t care how old you are, the best player’s gonna play.’ He earned every bit of his playing time. He’s putting the county on notice right now. He’s worked really hard, he’s making the most of his opportunity and he’s gonna be a really good running back.”
Cruz’s emergence allowed Allentown to move Ramsey Ben Flah to receiver, but he was limited to one touch. Granted, it was a 40-yard completion that helped set up the Redbirds final touchdown, and he alsocontributed defensively, but it was Raff who kept drives going as a possession receiver.
“The linebacker was playing inside of me,” Raff said. “We practiced it all week. I was just open for the outside route and wheels all day long. We saw we could do that.”
“Raff did fantastic,” Lachenmayer said. “He’s a gamer. He’s 145 pounds soaking wet but all heart. He’s a very good football player, a tough kid. I’m very happy for him.”
The defense also did its part, allowing just one touchdown after getting torched for 132 points in the first three games.
It looked like more of the same when Lawrence drove to the Redbirds 5-yard line on the game’s first series, only to see a holding penalty and stiffened defense force the Cardinals (1-2) into a bad snap on a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Allentown responded with a 62-yard drive, culminated by Cruz’s short TD run and set up by Raff’s 48-yard reception.
Lawrence, which had last week off due to Hamilton West’s COVID-19 scare, continued to move the ball before stalling. The Cards got to Allentown’s 21 before failing on a fourth-and-1, and reached the Redbirds 17 before a sack ended the half. Just prior to that, Merkel made it 14-0 on a keeper.
The game stayed that way through most of the second half before everyone’s hair seemed to catch on fire in the final five minutes.
Merkel made it 21-0 on one of his vintage 43-yard runs with 4:25 left. Freshman Ji’had Dicks returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to get Lawrence on the board 12 seconds later.
Rather then try to run clock, Allentown kept pressuring and Cruz scored his second TD with 2:00 left. Dicks completed the scoring binge with 33 seconds remaining, but Lachenmayer praised his team’s defensive effortdespite the late TD. The Redbirds allowed 265 yards but buckled down when necessary.
“We just kind of adjusted,” Lachenmayer said. “They’re a very run-heavy team so we had a few more linemen up front. The biggest adjustment was just to their scheme; nothing really personnel wise. We put Ramsey in a position where he was gonna be able to make a lot of plays on defense and he did.”
And while Ben Flah focused on defense, Cruz and Raff picked it up offensively. For Cruz, it was his first varsity win, first 100-yard game and first touchdowns.
“And it won’t be the last,” he promised.
#Allentowns #Raff #doldrums #helps #Redbirds