ATLANTA — It was a simple equation, and a championship formula Sandy Creek had followed before. And Saturday evening, talent plus experience equaled another state championship for the Patriots football program.
Top-ranked Sandy Creek, loaded with several college prospects, was dominant on both sides of the ball in claiming its third Class AAAA state title in four years with a 45-10 victory over Ridgeland.
"There's a reason they are who they are," Panthers coach Mark Mariakis said. "They put great athletes all over the field, have a strong passing and rushing offense, and their defensive line is unbelievably physical."
His Panthers were making their GHSA title-game debut, and by halftime that inexperience on the state's biggest stage, coupled with Sandy Creek's experience there, was evident. Sandy Creek, which beat all 15 opponents this season by at least 11 points, including 10 wins by 30-plus points, outgained Ridgeland by more than 180 yards in the first half and rolled up 445 total yards for the game with a balanced 200-plus yards on the ground and through the air.
Ridgeland came in averaging 42 points and 355 rushing yards per game but was kept out of the end zone until the final three minutes. Senior fullback Darrell Bridges, who had rushed for more than 180 yards in each of the five games leading up to the final, was held to 89 yards on 22 carries.
"They're a very physical team and they did their homework in the film room," said Bridges, who accounted for the Panthers' TD with a 38-yard pass to Vonn Bell. "They put a lot of speed on the field, athletes that will be playing at the big-time level in college, and they play smart and fast and physical.
"Their defensive line is outstanding. We didn't get many easy yards."
Sandy Creek, which has won 67 of its last 70 games, completed a 44-yard pass on the first play and needed just four snaps to reach the end zone. Another touchdown early in the second gave the Patriots a 14-0 cushion, and they put the game out of reach by scoring 17 points in the final 4:34 of the first half.
Patriots junior quarterback Cole Garvin threw for 277 yards and two TDs, and sophomore running backs Eric Swinney and Delvin Weems combined for 160 yards and four scores.
"It would be tough for anybody to come back on them, as good as they are defensively, but our offense is designed to run at people and wear them down and not score points in a hurry," Mariakis said. "We dug ourselves too large a hole early."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
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 ...