RINGGOLD, Ga. -- It's not often a football team can give up 50 points in a playoff game and be alive three weeks later to talk about it. But this hasn't been a typical season for the Ringgold Tigers.
They not only survived North Hall's offensive outburst in week one before advancing to Friday's Class AAA semifinal at Washington County, but they thrived in part because of it. Coach Robert Akins hopes lessons applied in two strong defensive showings since the 55-54 thriller again will show up against the most prolific offense in AAA.
"Our tackling has improved the past two weeks, but the big thing about that game was that North Hall was just a great offense," Akins said. "The kids have always played hard on the defensive side, but if there is one thing I've seen us improve on the most in the past two weeks, it's that the kids are trusting us more and they're playing with more discipline. We'll need it Friday."
The 12-0 Golden Hawks have averaged 52 points per game and have scored 56, 56 and 46 in their three playoff wins. They have three players -- Melvin Hill, A.J. Gray and Danyala Wicker -- who have combined to rush for right at 4,000 yards this season. And, as Akins pointed out, Ringgold's fastest player likely would not crack WACO's top 25.
A daunting task, sure, but the Tigers don't intend just to get in the way. They expect to unleash the same defense that held Cedar Grove and Central-Carroll 20 points under their respective offensive outputs the past two weeks.
"We've just been playing as a team better," said junior defensive end Zach Morris. "Washington County likes to run it, so if we can stop that we'll be fine. We have to execute and squeeze when they down-block and not let them get outside us."
Morris, who has 24 tackles for loss and 13 sacks among his 91 tackles, heads a defensive-line rotation that also includes starters Ryan Emmer, Mike Bishop and Bryan Derbin, a disruptive group that has been crucial in the Tigers' scheme.
"We rotate eight guys in and they've all got good size, and to me they've been the difference makers with us," Akins said. "They're a big reason [leading tackler] Dakota Baer is having such a great season, because those guys have kept blockers off him and allowed him to make plays. They will definitely be a key Friday because Washington County's line, while not huge, is great at getting on you and getting to the next level."
Akins admits his team has not experienced anything like the overall team speed it will face Friday, but he expects the gme to boil down to the same fundamentals it always does.
"They like to spread you out and dare you to make a play, so we have to keep our gap discipline and slide to the ball and make plays," he said. "If we don't know how to get off blocks and tackle by now, we're in trouble anyway. The guys are ready to get after it, that much I do know."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
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 ...