For the Darrell Bridges and his Ridgeland Panthers football teammates, if one important streak was going to continue, their two-game losing streak had to end.
Bridges paced an overpowering rushing attack with 179 yards and the defense forced seven turnovers as the three-time defending Region 7-AAA champion Panthers overwhelmed LaFayette 26-14.
"We talked about that all week," Bridges said after scoring the clinching touchdown among his 28 carries, "that we may be 1-4, but the region championship still goes through us no matter what."
Bridges, a quick junior, and senior power back Torrie Porter, who had 120 yards and a rushing score, muscled and motored through an overworked LaFayette defense that was forced into one corner after another by turnovers.
LaFayette lost two fumbles in the first quarter -- including a friendly bounce that Porter scooped up and returned for a 29-yard score and a quick 7-0 lead. With the early turnovers and the relentless running game, Ridgeland ran 22 first-quarter plays to LaFayette's five and took a 14-0 lead on Vonn Bell's 15-yard scoring run capped a drive set up by the second lost fumble.
"You can't turn over the ball over seven times and expect to beat a team like Ridgeland," LaFayette coach Tad Gable said. "Give them all the credit -- they forced us into a lot of those mistakes and took advantage of them."
LaFayette's most effective play was giving the ball to hiccup-quick tailback Devarus Porter, who had a 63-yard second-quarter touchdown run that was keyed by a crushing block from receiver Jordan Teems. Porter's long run got the Ramblers on the board and accounted for almost half of his total of 133 yards.
Will Mefford's 47-yard fumble return for a score pulled LaFayette even, but from there it was all Ridgeland, which got an impressive showing from its entire defense that was highlighted by two interceptions and a fumble recovery from Xavier Turner.
"We've been close," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said after his team improved to 2-4, "and we've played some good teams. But we're still the champs until someone takes it from us."
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...