Bolstered by a huge night on both sides of the ball by senior Jeremiah Turner, the Ridgeland Panthers snapped a season-opening five-game losing streak with a 21-14 victory over Heritage at Bowers and Painter Field on Friday night.
With the victory, Ridgeland (1-5, 1-0) finds itself in a tie atop the region 7-AAAA standings with Central-Carroll and Cedartown as they look to make it back-to-back region titles.
The first half saw just seven points scored and it came on one of a number a big plays by Turner on the evening. Facing fourth-and-two from just past midfield on the Panthers' first possession of the game, the senior burst right up the middle and went almost untouched for a 44-yard touchdown run.
The rest of the half would be a battle of field possession and punts. The Ridgeland defense forced the Generals to punt on their first three possessions of a half, while Heritage's defense forced two Panther punts following the initial score.
The Generals (3-3, 0-1) would get the ball back at their own 31-yard line with 57 seconds left in the half and were immediately hit with a 15-yard chop block penalty. However, a 21-yard catch by Bryce Travillian, two 15-yard penalties and one 10-yard call on Ridgeland would give Heritage a shot at a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
But a bobbled snap would result in Anderson Britton's attempt being blocked and Ridgeland would sprint to the locker room still nursing a 7-0 lead.
The second half began with an incredible, tackle-breaking 57-yard run by Turner and 10 yards were tacked on after the play following a penalty on the Generals. However, the Panthers would cough up the ball on the very next play, thwarting a golden scoring opportunity.
But after picking up two first downs, Heritage had to punt from its own 40 and, three plays later, Chase Watkins hit Ke'Sean Eubanks down the sideline for a 68-yard scoring strike. An illegal substitution penalty on Heritage on the extra point caused the Panthers to opt for a 2-point conversion instead and Turner plowed his way in to increase the lead to 15-0 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
Heritage answered with a 47-yard touchdown drive, all on the legs of Paxton McCrary, who covered the distance in seven plays. A final 3-yard run and an extra point by Britton, cut Ridgeland's lead to 15-7 with 2:05 left in the quarter.
But just two plays into Ridgeland's ensuing possession, Turner took a handoff at his own 15-yard line, broke through a wave of Heritage tacklers, and sprinted 85 yards for his second big-play touchdown of the night. A bad snap on the PAT would keep the Panthers' lead at 14 points, 21-7, with a little more than a minute left to play in the third period.
The Ridgeland defense would hold on fourth down at its own 27, but the offense would have to punt it back to the Generals, who retook possession at their own 32-yard line with 9:51 left to play.
Catches by Cade Kiniry and Logan Lowe moved the ball all the way down to the Ridgeland 25 and, five plays later, quarterback Nick Hanson would ride his offensive line into the endzone from a yard out. Britton's kick cut the lead down seven with 6:38 to play.
A 15-yard penalty on Ridgeland during the extra point would allow the Generals to kick off from the 50 and Heritage's Kaden Swope would recover an onside kick after the Panthers were unable to field the ball cleanly. But Cade Dunn would make a big tackle for loss on third down and an incomplete pass on fourth down would give the ball back to Ridgeland at its own 33-yard line with exactly four minutes left to go.
Another 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Panthers would bog down the drive and they were forced to punt it back to Heritage with 2:45 still on the clock. Hanson's first two passes of the ensuing drive fell incomplete, but looking to set up a screen pass on third-and-10 at the Ridgeland 46, Turner came up with one final huge play as he jumped the route for the interception before returning it all the way to the Generals' 31-yard line with 2:20 to play.
The Panthers were then able to run out the rest of the clock to secure the victory.
Turner had 12 carries for a career-high 220 yards. Watkins completed 3 of 7 passes for 94 yards, while Eubanks picked up 75 yards on two receptions. Sam Dickson booted a pair of extra points.
Hanson completed 10 of 22 passes for 110 yards on the night for the Generals, while McCrary was the workhorse with 27 carries for 112 yards. A total of 19 of his carries came in the second half as he went for 98 yards over the final two quarters. Lowe was the leading receiver for Heritage with three catches for 59 yards, while Travillian, Eli Owens and Jonathan Washburn all recorded sacks for the Generals.
The other big story of the night was penalties. Heritage was flagged eight times for 76 yards, but only twice after halftime, while Ridgeland was whistled 15 times on the night for 190 penalty yards.
Ridgeland will travel to Jasper next Friday for a region clash with the Pickens Dragons, while Heritage will be back at home and will have its hands full against a solid Central-Carroll squad.