TUNNEL HILL — Northwest Whitfield made a statement with its first drive of the game, going 80 yards in just four plays.
Ridgeland made sure the Bruins had very little to say after that.
In the Region 6-AAAA opener for both teams, Ridgeland - ranked No. 4 in the most recent Georgia Sports Writer Association Class AAAA poll - dominated both lines of scrimmage, took away Northwest’s passing attack with blanket man-to-man coverage and seemingly scored at will in dominating fashion.
Running back Jalyn Shelton had three touchdowns and Ridgeland’s defense shut out the Bruins after the opening drive for a 48-7 victory at Bruins Stadium.
After both teams scored on their opening possessions, it looked as if the fans who packed into the stadium might be treated to a repeat of the 48-42 thriller Ridgeland won last year at home. But Northwest did little from there on out, thanks to a smothering defense that got stronger as the night went on.
"This definitely was a statement game for us," Ridgeland head coach Wesley Tankersley said. "We just played really good all around. We made big plays when we needed them."
Northwest quarterback Luke Shifflett had a 42-yard run on his first play on a scramble back up the middle and then hit Jaret Staten on 35-yard scoring strike less than two minutes into the game.
But Ridgeland (5-0, 1-0) answered just as quickly.
"We had a week off and sometimes you have to readjust to the speed of the game," Tankersley said of Northwest’s first scoring drive. "They did a good job of responding after that. That was the first time we have been down in a game this season. It was good to see the kids bounce back well."
It was more than just a bounce back.
Ridgeland’s offense gobbled up yards seemingly at will from the opening drive. Shelton, who has announced he will play for Navy in college, finished with 127 yards on 18 carries. Wingback Markeith Montgomery averaged more than 10 yards per carry while gaining 94 yards with two touchdowns — one on the ground and one receiving.
Quarterback Tanner Hill didn’t need to pass with his running game so finely tuned, but he made the most of his passes. He finished 7-of-9 for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
By the end of the first half as Ridgeland had built a 27-7 lead, the Panthers had outgained Northwest (3-2, 0-1) 259 to 101 in total offense.
"We felt like we had something to prove tonight," Shelton said. "We wanted to make a statement and I think their score to start the game got our attention and had us focused."
For Northwest, head coach Josh Robinson was disappointed his team lost control of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"It is really disappointing," Robinson said. "We didn’t execute on offense or defense at all tonight. We couldn’t block well on the line of scrimmage and they were able stop our run game and use their speed on the outside and that let them tee off on us. It was a vicious cycle."
Ridgeland will take a week off before hosting county rival LaFayette, while Northwest will head to south Walker County to face the Ramblers this coming Friday night.