Ridgeland Panthers

The Ridgeland Panthers lowered the curtain on their first spring practice under new head coach Craig Pritchett Friday night, but not before a solid performance in a scrimmage at Gordon Central.

Although no official numbers were posted on the scoreboard, Ridgeland scored six touchdowns - five on the ground - and racked up 509 yards of offense on just 42 plays, an average of 12.1 each.

Meanwhile, the defense held the Warriors to 178 yards on 41 plays (4.3 average). Ridgeland's defense also forced four fumbles and recovered three of them, intercepted a pair of passes and recorded five sacks.

"We finally got the jitters out, got a couple of breaks and got a couple of plays here and there, and it started to look like Ridgeland football," Pritchett said.

With the teams exchanging 10-play possessions in every quarter but the second, which was played with standard football protocol, the Panthers scored on their first possession as a 1-yard run by quarterback Chase Watkins capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive. Demetree Bates clicked off a 24-yard run on third down to highlight the drive.

Ridgeland's defense showed out in its first appearance of the night. Watkins and defensive lineman Aiden Stone both recovered fumbles, while defensive back Ethan Waters picked off two passes in the span of four plays.

An exchange of punts was followed by an exchange of turnovers and the Warriors would get the ball at their own 40-yard line with 7:45 left in the half. A bobbled snap on first down looked like trouble, but Central was able to recover for a 40-yard pass down to the Ridgeland 20. They scored four plays later on a 3-yard run.

However, they gave up four sacks in their next two offensive possessions. Stone and Kain Brown each recorded one, as did Jaleel Choice, while Stone and fellow rising freshman Bryson Donald combined for the other.

The Panthers' final possession of the half resulted in maybe the most exciting play of the scrimmage.

With just seconds left on the clock, Watkins was flushed out of the pocket and heaved a deep ball downfield toward a pair of Ridgeland receivers. The pass was knocked away by a Central defensive back, but receiver Darrian Burks, who saw Watkins start to scramble, made a beeline from the opposite side of the field and was able to snag the ball out of the air just before it went out of bounds.

Burks was able to keep his feet inbound and regained his balance before racing the final five yards to pay-dirt for an improbable touchdown with just 4.4 seconds left on the clock.

Some of the younger Ridgeland players took advantage of their opportunities in the second half.

Tyler Sharp came up with a sack and Ridgeland's defense held on downs, while the offense scored three times in their next 10-play possession. Aiden Russell ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run, Donald raced through the defense on a 65-yard scoring scamper, and quarterback Ethan Gravitt hit Daylan Conley for 33 yards, before faking a handoff and scoring on a 40-yard keeper.

Elijah McCamey made a great individual defensive effort on Central's next possession as he stripped and recovered a fumble while making a tackle inside the 5-yard line. However, the referee ruled that the play had already been blown dead and the Warriors scored two plays later on a quarterback sneak.

Ridgeland got the final possession of the game. Donald ripped off a 22-yard run to set up a 32-yard TD run by Te'Sean Choice on a jet sweep. Bryson Duke followed up with a 25-yard catch from Gravitt and Malachi Hutchinson nearly scored on another jet sweep the final play of the scrimmage from the Central 34. However, he was pushed out of bounds at the 2-yard line as time expired.

Bates, who got the start in the backfield, carried six times for 59 yards, while Watkins had 28 yards on four carries. Russell, Gravitt and Donald ran for 70, 71 and 79 yards, respectively, as the Panthers piled up 370 yards on 30 rushing attempts.

Watkins was 4 of 7 in the air for 70 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Gravitt was 2 of 3 for 58 yards in the second half, while Waters was 2 of 2 for 11 yards. Burks was the leading receiver with two catches for 64 yards and also recovered a fumble on defense.

Ridgeland's kickers were also perfect on the night as Gage Kohl, Bryan Ojeda and Maria Ronda each went 2 of 2 on extra points.

Pritchett said the scrimmage was a good way to end a productive spring.

"We brought 60 down here today, so they know the standards are a little different and the expectations are a little higher," he said. "I'm super proud of these guys for sticking with it. A lot of them got a chance to shine tonight and make plays here and there. A lot of young guys got a chance to get in tonight and show what they can do, so it's an exciting time for football."

Ridgeland will open the 2022 regular season on Aug. 26 at North Cobb Christian.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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