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FOOTBALL: Ridgeland looking to bounce back against River Ridge

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You have to go back quite a long time to find the last time a Ridgeland team was handled the way they were handled by Calhoun in their last outing, a 37-0 loss at home back on Aug. 30.

It was the first time Ridgeland had been shutout in any game since the 2006 season, and the last time a Panther team had lost by 37 points or more was back in 2002 duringĀ a 57-12 loss at Woodland (Cartersville).

And although there won't be a definite answer until Friday night at 7:30 p.m., head coach Mark Mariakis says he believes his team will respond in a positive manner when they take the field in Woodstock against River Ridge.

"We have a bunch of new faces that are learning that playing on Friday night isn't easy," he said. "Some of these guys are being asked to be 'the man' starting in the first half now, which is a whole lot different than going in during the second half of a blowout game. We have to grow up in a lot of places, but I'm thinking we'll be better this week. Hopefully we can grow up soon enough to make push for another region championship."

One of the biggest storylines for the Panthers this week is who may or not be on the field come kick-off. Eleven different players are nursing injuries, meaning once again Ridgeland will not have their full roster available when they face the Knights. Included in that list is defensive lineman/tight end and Indiana University commitment Jermane Conyers, who will likely miss a second straight game with a lower leg injury.

"We never had this many injury problems before," Mariakis lamented. "Everyone goes through it, but it just seems like the injury bug has just sort of sat in on us. It's not that we're doing anything different in practice, it's just freaky little things that are keeping some kids off the field."

While Ridgeland took last week off to lick their wounds, River Ridge faced local rival Creekview, trying to shake off the shock of a 56-7 drubbing at the hands of Sequoyah in their first game of the season. However, the Knights could not connect on two extra points and that proved to be the difference in a 20-19 loss to the Grizzlies.

The Knights allowed 185 yards rushing against Creekview, which was a vast improvement over their defensive performance against Sequoyah. The Chiefs piled up 529 yards on the ground in that blowout victory.

Ridgeland and River Ridge haven't been opponents for very long, but the two teams got to know each other quite well last season. The Panthers hosted the Knights and claimed a 42-8 win in the second game of the season. After both teams ran the table in their respective subregions, they met again back at Bowers and Painter Field in the Region 7-AAAA title game, a matchup the Panthers won, 48-14.

Mariakis says he and his team know what to expect after seeing River Ridge play last week.

"It's pretty much the same group of kids, except this is the first group of seniors they've had," he continued. "They could have easily won last week. They are big, physical, and they execute. We'll have to play well.

"Last year, our speed really hurt them, but we don't have that blazing speed right now. We have to play disciplined football, be patient with first downs, and not turn the ball over. Then on defense, again, we can't give up any big plays.

"We've worked hard this week. The kids understand the mistakes we made two weeks ago and they know we have to make the adjustments in order to be in this ball game."