Ridgeland Panthers

Friday’s Class AAAA state tournament opener between the Panthers of Ridgeland and the Panthers of Chapel Hill was not a game you wanted to show up late for – as the visitors found out.

By the time the bus unloaded Chapel Hill’s band and cheerleading squad, its team was already down three touchdowns to coach Wesley Tankersley’s quick-strike offense. Ridgeland did not slack off the pace, either. After scoring three times in the first five minutes, the host Panthers overwhelmed the visitors, 63-7.

Enjoying a home field advantage in the early rounds, Ridgeland (11-0) will host (9-2) Jefferson on Friday night. A state semifinalist last season, Jefferson defeated White County in their playoff opener, 29-13.

Despite the big point output, Friday night’s win belonged to the Ridgeland defense. Chapel Hill (6-5) turned the ball over three times in its first six plays, all of them leading to quick touchdowns. The first was a nifty interception by A'zavier Blackwell, returning the ball 22 yards to give Ridgeland its first offensive play in the red zone.

A clutch third-down pass from Tanner Hill to Jordan Tucker set up a 4-yard blast by Gabe McDonald with barely three minutes gone, but the Panthers defense was just getting warmed up.

A first-down tackle for a loss by Kobe Montgomery set up a passing down for strong-armed Chapel Hill signal caller K.J. Burton. But Burton had the ball jarred loose on a hit and it would eventually roll into the endzone where Jordan Blackwell recovered in the endzone to add to the lead.

Just 12 seconds later, they would tack on more points and again, it was the defense getting it done. Derayl Helton blasted Burton and the fumble soared high in the air, landing near the goal line at the feet of Terrence Roberts, who cradled it in for the third Ridgeland score of the quarter.

The game settled down in a more methodical beatdown from there. Ridgeland sacked the explosive Burton seven times in the first half. As a team, Chapel Hill ended the game with 41 yards of total offense and a net of minus-28 yards rushing.

The second quarter would belong to senior halfback Markeith Montgomery.

Forcing a Chapel Hill punt at the end of the first quarter, the host Panthers needed a nine-play drive to make it 28-0. Montgomery got the 4-yard scoring run after A'zavier Blackwell caught a tipped pass from Hill for 26 yards.

Back-to-back sacks by Helton led to another Chapel Hill punt. Montgomery would salvage a penalty-marred drive by scoring on a 5-yard run. He would carry the ball 13 times for exactly 100 yards in the first half, getting his third touchdown on a 17-yard burst with 3:05 left in the half.

But Ridgeland wasn’t done yet, not by a long shot.

A muffed kickoff return was picked up by Tim Bowman at the Chapel Hill 22 and Desmond Johnson got his turn to score, putting it across with 1:45 left in the half. Down 49-0, Chapel Hill agreed to a running clock the entire second half.

Ridgeland would score two more times in the second half. A'zavier Blackwell capped a nine-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run and the Panthers' final possession began at the start of the fourth quarter and chewed up all but the final 38 seconds before Cyron Burse bulled his way from the 8-yard line. Conner Middleton would cap the game with his ninth PAT.

The only score of the night for Chapel Hill, who never crossed midfield in the game, came on a desperation, jump-ball pass from midfield on fourth down as time expired in the third quarter. Rangy receiver Miles Richardson was able to come down with the ball for the 50-yard score to prevent the shutout.

Ridgeland rushed for 288 yards as a team as Johnson added 61 yards on eight carries and Burse picked up 53 yards on five attempts. Helton had a hand, unofficially, in four sacks.

Ridgeland will now turn its attention to Jefferson, the No. 2 seed from Region 8. The Dragons suffered just two losses on the year, a 20-14 setback at state-ranked Thomson and a 43-29 loss at Region 8 champion St. Pius X.

The winner of the game will face either Baldwin or Mary Persons in the state quarterfinals.