If the LaGrange Grangers were going to score in the final minutes and tie Friday night's Georgia Class AAAA second-round football playoff game, Ridgeland defensive back Dillon Peterman wasn't going to be the culprit.
The junior, who ended up one-on-one with no help deep with LaGrange down seven but driving at the Ridgeland 43-yard line, didn't bite on a pump fake and intercepted Zach Giddons' pass at the 12 to seal the Panthers' 41-34 win.
Ridgeland (12-1) will host Mary Persons in next week's quarterfinal round, the first trip past the second round in program history.
"I'm so happy I was able to stop that last drive," Peterman said. "They got us early with some trick plays, so we had to stay disciplined. It's incredible to be on the first team to win two playoff games."
Offensive honors went to the Panthers' two senior standouts. Running back Darrell Bridges constantly pounded the Grangers to the tune of 254 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. Senior wingback Vonn Bell had 132 rushing yards and 27 receiving yards and two touchdowns as Ridgeland ran up 381 yards in the hard-hitting game.
"It was a physical game, and it was about out-hitting them," a winded Bridges said. "We gave the ball away a couple of times, so we have to go back to work to fix that. But it feels great to win in this round. This was one of our goals. Our next goal is to win the state, but we've got to focus on the next round."
The Grangers (6-6), who scored on a 60-yard pass on their second play when a receiver acted as if he was leaving the field, stopped next to the sideline and was unguarded on a quick catch-and-run, tied the game at 21 just before halftime on a 57-yard drive and two-point conversion.
Ridgeland appeared to gain control with back-to-back touchdowns in a one-minute span of the third quarter. A Bridges 43-yard run set up his 6-yard scoring burst with two minutes left in the period, and then Giddons was sacked by Jerome Smith and fumbled, with Sharone Porter recovering at the Ridgeland 47. Two plays later, Shaqualm McCoy broke off right end, shook two tackles and scored from 42 yards out for a 35-21 lead.
The Grangers were not done, however. They scored in just two plays, a 40-yard pass to Dee Smith and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Clete Miller on the quarter's final play.
Ridgeland again made it a two-score game on Bell's 21-yard run six plays into the final period, but the point-after kick was blocked.
Giddons later completed five consecutive passes against a tired Ridgeland defense, the final one covering 34 yards to Benny Gray with 5:52 still to play. Ridgeland ate up three minutes with two first downs but had to punt from the LaGrange 45, with the visitors taking over at the 20 with 2:54 remaining.
The Grangers got two first downs, but Peterman's pickoff ended the thriller moments later.
"We knew they were a good offensive team and that they would never quit," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "They're used to being here and getting past this round; we're not. Hats off to our kids. They just kept battling and they weren't going to get beat. I love them for it."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...