A good-sized contingent of Ridgeland football supporters got their first chance to see the Panthers under new head coach Cortney Braswell Friday night during Ridgeland's spring scrimmage against the visiting Cleveland Blue Raiders from Tennessee.
And at the end of the day, the results were mostly positive for new head Panther.
"Head coaches always see things that they don't like, but one thing that I saw that I did like was that we competed at a very high level," Braswell said. "Obviously our execution is lacking in a few places, some on the offensive side and some on the defensive side of the ball. But I didn't see anything that wasn't fixable. Our goal now is to go forward these next few weeks into our summer routine and try to figure out how we can coach better so they will play better."
The scrimmage was broken up with a quarter of 7-on-7 passing drills, followed by a quarter of 9-on-9 action featuring each team's running game before standard 11-on-11 play in the second half.
The Ridgeland offense scored on its first possession of the first quarter as Tanner Hill hooked up with Stephon Walker on a 19-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers drove inside the Cleveland 10-yard line when time expired in the period.
The Blue Raiders answered with a touchdown pass on its first possession, but were prevented from scoring again.
In the second quarter of play, Hill had a touchdown run on a keeper and Jordan Blackwell found the endzone on a short run. Ridgeland's two touchdowns were countered by two long touchdown runs by Cleveland, one by Deandrez Bridges and one by impressive junior quarterback Javin Burke.
But the Panthers' defense made up for it in the second half. King Mason picked off a Burke pass on the final play of the quarter and Shawn Wilson came up with an interception and a long return of nearly 80 yards in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland drove inside the Ridgeland 10-yard line as time expired. However, both teams agreed for one final four-play series. And on the final snap of the night, the Panthers stepped up to force a fumble, which was recovered by Michael O'Neal just short of the goal line.
Offensively, A'zavier Blackwell thrilled the Ridgeland fateful with a highlight-reel 80-yard run on the first play of the second half. Blackwell made a Houndini-esque move on the sidelines, somehow managed to stay inbound and dodge several more tackles before crossing the goal line.
Jordan Blackwell had a nice 20-yard gain on a third period run, while the Panthers put up another touchdown through the air. This time it was Jordan Hughley taking a short pass over the middle from Hill and streaking past the Cleveland defense for an 80-yard score
"We really competed this spring," Braswell added. "We set the tempo about how we wanted to go about doing things. We wanted to get the base concepts in and I think we did that. Now our focus has got to go to the execution of those concepts.
"We set the standard about how we want to practice, how to dress and how to conduct ourselves when we were playing. I feel really good about that. Obviously, there's some growth that can happen there, but I'm so pleased with just seeing how much we've improved in just eight days."