Although they certainly don't relish being in this position, the Ridgeland Panthers do know what it's like to be under .500 early in the year.
Twice in the last five seasons, the Black-and-White have fallen in an early-season hole, only to emerge with positive results the rest of the way.
In 2008, Ridgeland began the season 1-2, but reeled off eight straight wins, including the Region 6-AAA championship over Carrollton, before finally bowing out in the second round of the state playoffs.
Three years later, the Panthers endured a nightmarish 1-4 start, but regrouped to win all five of its subregion games (one victory came on a forfeit after Dalton was stripped of a win for using an ineligible player) to make the region title game. Ridgeland lost to Allatoona in that title game, but beat Monroe Area in the opening round of the state playoffs before losing at Peach County.
So with that history as a backdrop, the Panthers (1-2) return to Bowers and Painter Field this Friday night to welcome the Pickens Dragons for Homecoming. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
"Obviously, no one likes being 1-2, and we didn't take care of business last week," head coach Mark Mariakis explained, referencing Ridgeland's 36-14 loss at Cedartown. "But these kids aren't satisfied with how it's going and we've had some very intense practices this week. They are working very hard and I can't ask anything more from them than what they are giving us."
The Dragons will come to Rossville sporting a 2-1 record, including shutout victories over Sonoraville (47-0) and Heritage (42-0). Their lone loss saw them turn the ball over six times in a 25-13 loss to Northwest Whitfield on Sept. 13.
Once again, it will be the B & B Show for the Green-and-White as senior quarterback Tanner Brumby and junior running back Shannon Brooks are possibly the best playmaking duo in the entire region.
Brumby has completed 20 passes in his first three games for 345 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions (both against Northwest). Brooks ran six times for 72 yards and two scores versus Sonoraville, and had eight carries for 88 yards to go with two catches for 79 yards and two TDs against Heritage. He scored both of his team's TDs versus the Bruins, while rushing 23 times for 150 yards.
However, there are question marks on the offensive line as the Dragons began the year with five new starters, none of which are seniors.
Still, it's an offense that has Mariakis' attention.
"I thought they gave us as many fits, offensively, as anyone we played last year," he said. "They are a talented team that gives you a lot of different looks. I think we counted 54 different (offensive) formations in the past two weeks. They put so much in front of you, it's hard to concentrate on everything. We just have to focus on the main plays and adjust on the fly as needed."
Defensively, Mariakis said Pickens employs a odd-man front that likes to play physical and swarm to the ball. Senior linebacker Thomas Howard has been the team's leading tackler the past two seasons and continues to be the man to watch.
"They usually run a three or a five-man front and they'll put a lot of guys in the box," the coach said. "They are bringing back a lot of kids on that side so we'll have our hands full."
While injuries continue to plague the Panthers, they did get some good news this week. Senior defensive lineman Jermane Conyers (shin) has been cleared to play, but Mariakis said the Indiana University commitment's action will likely be limited. Conyers hasn't played since the first quarter of the Panthers' scrimmage against Signal Mountain on Aug. 11.
"We still have some injuries and some young kids still trying to figure it all out, so we are still putting pieces in place," Mariakis added. "We're making some changes in the lineup this week to try and find some success. Hopefully it will pay off come Friday night."
Last year, Ridgeland scored the first 21 points and ran up over 475 yards of offense in a 35-7 win in Jasper. Ridgeland ran for 329 yards, including 73 yards and a touchdown from Noah Cooper on nine carries. Four rushing touchdowns were scored by four different backs, while the Panthers added a 51-yard scoring strike through the air.
Brumby managed just 57 yards passing and 57 yards rushing, while Brooks was held to 80 yards on 19 carries. It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
A win on Friday would also get Ridgeland above the .500 mark at home. All-time, the Panthers are 66-66 at Bowers and Painter Field, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website.