Ridgeland Panthers

There is a sign close to the scoreboard at Bowers and Painter Field touting all of Ridgeland's football postseason achievements in the 30-plus years that the school has fielded a team.

Sometime over the next few months, "2019" will be added to Ridgeland's ever-growing list of region titles and to its expanding list of state playoff appearances.

However, those will be the only two new additions to the sign before next season.

Using a triple-option attack rarely seen in this part of the state these days, the visiting Red Raiders of Madison County came to Rossville and stunned the Region 6-AAAA champions on Friday, 27-20.

With the victory, Madison County (5-6) advances to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history. They will be on the road next Friday night at Mary Persons, while Ridgeland's season abruptly came to an end with a 6-5 overall mark.

The Panthers fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, but used a 57-yard sprint by Terrance Roberts to get on the board with 40 seconds left in the opening period. Ridgeland would take advantage of a Madison County fumble on the first play of the second quarter and convert a short five-play march with Jordan Blackwell diving into the endzone out of the wildcat formation on fourth-and-goal from the Red Raider 1-yard line.

The Panthers' defense would rise up late in the first half to preserve the 13-7 halftime lead. Passing up a possible field goal on third-and-goal from the 17-yard line, Madison County quarterback Colby Smith scrambled out of the pocket before finding Devin Welborn open across the middle. Welborn got loose and made his way through traffic toward the sideline, but was eventually brought down just two yards shy of the endzone.

But coming out of halftime, the Red Raiders converted an onside kick - their second successful onside kick of the game - and they would cash in as Smith found Martavian Cooper on a 20-yard touchdown pass just two minutes into the third quarter. The extra point, however, was missed and game would be remained deadlocked at 13 apiece.

After the ensuing kickoff backed up the Panthers to their own 3-yard line, Ridgeland would pick up an initial first down. However, they were stopped at their own 27 after electing to go for it on fourth-and-inches and the Panthers lost yardage after having to fall on a fumble in the backfield. One play later, Cooper would take the pitch and race 16 yards to paydirt, while an extra point would give the Red Raiders a 20-13 lead with 5:49 to go in the third quarter.

Unable to move the ball, Connor Middleton boomed a punt of 58 yards to pin Madison County back at its own 2-yard line and the Ridgeland defense would strip Dayton Gresham of the ball on the ensuing play from scrimmage. A 3-yard TD run by Roberts one play later and a Middleton extra point would tie the game at 20 late in the third quarter.

Both teams would get the ball twice in the fourth. Ridgeland would be forced to punt it away with 7:03 left to play after officials ruled that a diving sideline catch by Cade McGregor on third down was not completed in the field of play, much to the chagrin and protest of the Ridgeland fans and bench.

Madison County would then take over at its own 25-yard line and used a face mask penalty and a pass interference penalty on the Panthers to get the ball inside the red zone. Then, on fourth-and-two from the Ridgeland 9, Madison County kept its offense on the field and used a hard count by Smith to draw the Panthers offside and give the Red Raiders a crucial first down with less than two minutes to play.

One play later, Gresham found the endzone from four yards out, while an extra point would put the visitors up 27-20 with 1:44 remaining on the clock.

Ridgeland would take possession and its own 33 with just over 90 seconds remaining, but were unable to move the chains. The Red Raiders would then pick off one final desperation heave on fourth down with 27 seconds left kneeling once to run out the clock.

Cooper had a big night for Madison County with 130 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He also hauled in three catches for 70 yards and one additional score. Smith was 4-of-9 in the air for 85 yards, while Gresham picked up 45 yards on nine carries.

Roberts, recently named the 6-AAAA Player of the Year, collected 92 yards on nine carries in his final game for the Panthers. Senior Jordan Blackwell managed 44 yards on eight attempts, while another senior, Torrance Roberts, carried eight times for 41 yards.

Both teams also had trouble hanging onto the ball. Ridgeland fumbled six times and lost one while Madison County lost two of its five fumbles.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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