Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakas comes up with a new challenge to his team at the beginning of each season.
He told this set of Panthers to separate themselves from previous teams.
They've done that.
The Panthers beat Monroe Area 35-21 on Friday night to become just the second team in school history to advance to the second round of the Georgia playoffs.
"These guys have come through a lot of adversity, and to advance it's hats off the to players and coaches," Mariakas said. "Our defense played lights out tonight."
The Panthers (7-4) will play next Friday at Peach County, which beat Worth County in the opening round.
The 2008 Panthers are the only other Ridgeland team to reach the second round. That squad lost in the final seconds to Flowery Branch, which ended the season as state runner-up.
Ridgeland junior fullback Darrell Bridges ran for two touchdowns, threw for another and gained 166 yards on 25 carries.
"We wanted to be different than past groups and get to the second round," Bridges said. "Ridgeland always seemed to be one-and-done, and it was a big chip on our shoulder to get past this first round, and we want to start a new tradition of getting past the second round."
Junior tailback Vonn Bell scored on a 3-yard run, caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Long, returned two interceptions for 98 yards and had 38 yards on nine carries.
"We knew we were going to get to this point, but a lot of people doubted us and now we're believers," Bridges said. "We made history. We're happy about it and we want to make more progress."
Bridges and Bell combined to give the Panthers a 21-0 halftime lead. Bridges scored from a yard out, Bell from 3 yards out and on his catch from Trevor Long.
Ridgeland went ahead 28-0 on a 47-yard pass from Bridges to Elijah Cutts. The Hurricanes pulled within three scores on a 12-yard run by Stanton Smith with 3:50 to go in the third quarter. Bridges added a 6-yard score in the third.
Monroe Area (8-3) scored the last two touchdowns including an 82-yard punt return by T.J. Sigmund with 2:07 to play.
The Panthers forced four turnovers -- two fumbles -- and two interceptions.
"The players executed the game-plan to a 'T,'" Mariakas said. "We asked our guys to trust the game plan and see if it works.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...