A quick strike offense has been a hallmark of the Ridgeland Panthers all season long.
Ridgeland has shown that they can score from any point on the field on just about any play and on more than a few of their touchdown drives this season, they have needed just a small handful of plays to put the ball in the endzone.
But for the most part of their highly-anticipated region showdown with fellow unbeaten Heritage, Ridgeland's offense used an old-school approach.
Running the ball and grinding up yardage, along with the clock, fourth-ranked Ridgeland picked up 319 of its 369 yards on the ground and maintained their perfect record with a 35-14 win over the Generals Friday night in front of approximately 9,000 fans at jam-packed Jeff Sims Field.
For the first time all season long, Ridgeland had two players go over 100 yards on the ground. Jalyn Shelton provided the thunder with 26 carries for 131 yards - most coming in the second half - and three scores, while Markeith Montgomery provided the lightning. The senior had nine carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scamper midway through the second quarter that helped staked the Panthers to a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.
"Both Markeith and Jalyn really had great nights," Ridgeland head coach Wesley Tankersley said. "Markeith on the big plays and Jalyn was just a hammer all night long. We knew that he was going to get us four or five yards a carry all night. And our offensive line, with as many new guys as we have on it, has played really well all season too."
Ridgeland (7-0 overall, 3-0 in Region 6-AAAA) opened with a 13-play, 80-yard march that took 6:09 off the clock. They overcame a first down-and-27 situation from midfield after a holding penalty, thanks in part to a 22-yard, fourth-down catch by Stephon Walker, to help set up Shelton's first score on a 3-yard run.
After forcing a punt at the 50-yard line, Ridgeland went 80 yards in 10 plays, aided by a 15-yard penalty on the Generals and two big 14-yard receptions by Walker and Jordan Tucker. Montgomery got the call on play No. 10, taking a handoff and dancing through the line on a 10-yard scoring run.
On its ensuing possession, Heritage (7-1, 3-1) got a 24-yard completion on a third-down slant pass from Blake Bryan to Luke Grant that moved to the ball to midfield. But three plays later, pressure from a blitz off the corner resulted in a rushed thrown by Bryan that was picked off by Ridgeland defensive back Shawn Wilson.
The lone turnover of the game for either team was converted into points just seconds later as Montgomery found a hole right up the gut and took off on his longest TD run of the year.
The Generals would threaten to put points on the board at the end of the half, but Montgomery broke up two passes inside his own 30-yard line - one coming in the endzone - and the Panthers snuffed out a double reverse halfback pass by Grant with 16 seconds to go, ending the drive at the Ridgeland 7-yard line.
Two sacks, one by Jordan Blackwell and one by Chris Bivins, put a damper on Heritage's first drive of the second half and the Panthers' offense would march 83 yards in 14 plays, taking 5:34 off the clock. Shelton was the workhorse, carrying the ball nine times for 47 yards on the march. He got the call on the last five plays, bulling his way to paydirt from a yard out and the fourth of five Conner Middleton extra points increased the lead to 28-0 with 3:54 left in the period.
Heritage would finally get on the board with 8:30 left in the game as a pass interference call and a personal foul on Ridgeland jump-started the drive before three straight completions by Bryan ended with a 16-yard TD pass to Grant on a fade route in the front corner of the endzone.
An onside kick attempt was scooped up by the Panthers, who put the game away with a seven-play, 51-yard drive. Jordan Hughley had two carries for 30 yards, while Shelton took care of the rest before another 1-yard dive made it 35-7 with 5:08 to go.
The Generals would get on the board on their final possession as they went 70 yards in eight plays, 35 yards of which came on three Ridgeland penalties, before Bryan connected with Grant on a 28-yard TD pass with seven ticks left on the clock. Ryan Craft ended the scoring with his second PAT of the night.
Ridgeland limited Heritage to 164 total yards, but tempted fate with 15 penalties for 147 yards, including 97 penalty yards in the second half alone.
"Our defense and our defensive line has played outstanding all year," Tankersley added. "I hate that we gave up a couple of late scores because we played so well all night, but we had a couple of dumb penalties near the end."
Bryan was 11-of-21 through the air for 117 yards, but three sacks, including one in the fourth quarter by Ridgeland defensive end Eli Foshay, resulted in Bryan being held to negative-10 yards on the ground. Jeffery Curtis finished with nine carries for 38 of Heritage's 47 yards rushing, while Grant had four catches for 77 yards.
Ridgeland quarterback Tanner Hill threw just seven passes, completing three of them for 50 yards.
The Panthers will be back at Bowers and Painter Field, looking to avenge last year's 35-34 loss to Pickens, while the Generals will look to regroup in south Walker County as they face LaFayette.