Ridgeland spring scrimmage

The Ridgeland defense, led by Derayl Helton (76), puts a big hit on McMinn County’s quarterback during Friday’s scrimmage in Rossville. (Photo by Bambara Aven/www.bbaven.com)

Bambara Aven

The offense showed flashes of what they could do and the defense was Flash-like as the Ridgeland Panthers closed the book on spring football practice Friday night at Bowers and Painter Field with a scrimmage against the McMinn County Cherokees, a Class 6A team from Athens, Tenn.

Each offense ran 10 offensive plays, not counting any penalties, before giving way to the opposing offense.

The Ridgeland offense would score on the very first play of the scrimmage, but it would be the only touchdown the No. 1's would put on the board. The Panthers' No. 2's would drive for two scores in the second half.

But it would be the defense that would shine the brightest as the sun started to set in the shadow of Lookout Mountain.

The Cherokees were held to nine yards of offense in their first 20 plays of the game, while their first 20 plays in the second half - played against Ridgeland's No. 2's - managed just 20 yards.

A total of 11 of the Cherokees' plays in the first half ended up going for negative yardage against Ridgeland's swarming defense. Jordan Tucker and Tim Bowman came up with sacks, while Jordan Blackwell picked off a McMinn pass.

Kobe Montgomery added an interception in the second half, while Hunter Langston recorded a sack of his own.

"Defensively, we're trying to use as much speed as we can," head coach Wesley Tankersley said. "It's an advantage we have over a lot of people and we're trying to use it."

Markeith Montgomery, who recently added offers from Wofford and Central Michigan to his ever-growing list of college suitors, ripped off a 70-yard scoring run on a jet sweep on the first play of the night. However, the offense had trouble getting anything else going in the opening half as they focused on putting some new wrinkles in the offense.

"If we'd run jet sweep every play, we'd probably have scored some more," Tankersley said, "but one of the things we tried to work on a lot tonight was our passing game. It was a big area of concentration for us this spring and in the game tonight. I don't know how you get better at something like that than to do it in a game situation, so we focused on that some tonight because we want to get more efficient at throwing the ball. If we add that to our running game, it will make us more dangerous than we already are."

Tanner Hill was 3-of-7 for 21 yards to three different receivers in the first half. He was also picked off once. Jalyn Shelton worked a series under center. He was 1-of-3 for just four yards, although he finished the scrimmage with 36 yards rushing on seven carries.

Hill played the first series after halftime and was 3-of-5 for 63 yards. He connected on a 36-yard strike to Shawn Wilson and later threw a screen pass to Cyron Burse, who made a great run after the catch, breaking multiple tackles on his way to an 18-yard score.

Ridgeland scored one final time on its final possession of the night. A 32-yard run by Burse moved the ball past midfield, although a sack and a penalty brought the ball back into Panthers territory.

However, A'zavier Blackwell turned in the highlight play of the night one play after the sack. Starting left, he ran into a Cherokee wall of defenders before completely reversing direction. He avoided getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage and got a big block from Burse on his way to a 55-yard TD run.

McMinn would score touchdowns on back-to-back 70 yards runs in the closing moments of the scrimmage as both teams put their youngest players on the field to close out the night.

"We had a really good spring, probably the best one we've had since I've been here," Tankersley added. "It helps when you have a lot of colleges coming around the watch the kids. The kids really get focused when that happens. Tonight was a good springboard for us to go into the summer.

"We've got a tough non-region schedule to start with. Pepperell, Adairsville and Darlington all have a lot of kids coming back. Those will be very tough games, so we've got to mentally prepared for that."