While boys should never hit a girl, Ridgeland's football team had no issue with punching Mary Persons in the mouth Friday night.
The Panthers kept it brutally simple against visiting Mary Persons, rolling to a 45-14 GHSA Class AAAA victory on the strength of 417 rushing yards on 57 carries, and only two passes.
Ridgeland's defense was just as physically dominant, holding a high-octane offense to 171 total yards. Mary Persons had fewer than 100 rushing yards before its final drive against Panthers' backups.
"We knew this would be a game that would be won in the trenches, and our guys accepted the challenge," Panthers coach Mark Mariakis said. "We just lined up and went right at them on offense, and that was about as good as our defense has played all year. It was a complete effort all the way around."
And if the flu couldn't slow Darrell Bridges, the Bulldogs had no chance. Admittedly weak after the game, Ridgeland's 6-foot, 215-pound bull of a running back was anything but puny in leading the punishing ground game, carrying the ball 25 times for 214 yards and four touchdowns. He also had the only pass completion of the game for the Panthers, who advance to the state semifinals for the first time in program history.
It was the fifth straight game that Bridges has rushed for more than 200 yards, and Ridgeland will face Marist or Stockbridge next Friday with the site to be determined by a coin flip Saturday morning.
"I felt a little better than I did during last week's game, but I'm still not close to 100 percent," said Bridges, who has more than 2,100 yards for the season. "The last couple of weeks, being sick, it's taken its toll. I'm pretty tired.
"With the way our offensive line is blocking right now, 200 yards comes pretty easy. We're wearing people down in the second half, and that's because of all the conditioning we did in the summer."
Ridgeland took advantage of a short punt to begin its second possession at the Bulldogs' 40, Eight plays into the possession, Bridges scored on a 2-yard run, which was the first of four straight scoring drives before halftime. Bridges added a 1-yard TD, followed by a 46-yard scoring run before Evan Courtney ended the first-half barrage with a 45-yard field goal as time expired in the half for a 24-0 advantage.
Although Mary Persons turned a Ridgeland fumble into a three-play scoring drive early in the third quarter, the Panthers answered with an 11-play drive that did not result in points but did use up plenty of time and also turned the field position in their favor. After the second of three interceptions by the Panthers, Ridgeland ended any second-half drama when Bridges turned a fourth-and-2 into a 31-yard TD run.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...