It was most fitting that Friday night's first-round Class AAAA battle between Ridgeland and Booker T. Washington featured black versus blue in the color scheme. It was definitely a black-and-blue type game.
In the end, though, on the strength of Darrell Bridges' five rushing touchdowns, the Ridgeland men in black were too much for the visiting Bulldogs in rolling to a 45-21 victory.
The Panthers are now set to host LaGrange in a second-round game next Friday at Bowers and Painter Field.
Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis knew that the two mirror-image squads would produce a slugfest, and he also knew that every possession would count in such a contest.
"We knew it could come down to a possession or two, and we wanted to make sure every possession we had counted," Mariakis said.
Bridges made sure of that. He rushed for 191 yards on 21 carries, scoring on runs of 8, 11, 6, 15 and 41 as the Panthers rolled up 412 rushing yards. Ridgeland (10-1) scored on all seven of its offensive series.
"I'm not shocked," Mariakis said. "That's what he does and that's what we do. We run the football and we were not going to change. I thought our defense really stepped up and made some adjustments in that second half, too."
The Bulldogs came out and covered 74 yards in 11 rushing plays with Frank Barthelemy scooting in from the 2 for a 7-0 lead. Ridgeland answered quickly. Bridges needed just three runs to cover the entire 55 yards.
Washington pounded away again before Antavis Rowe broke off a 60-yarder for the go-ahead score. Rowe had 115 rushing yards in the first period in a 164-yard rushing night. He also scored on a 41-yard pass.
The lone mistake the visiting Bulldogs made in the first half was an ill-advised test of Vonn Bell. Bell won, of course, intercepting Fernanda Tucker's pass at the goal line, returning it 30 yards. From there, the Panthers ran 11 plays before Evan Courtney booted a 33-yard field goal for the 17-14 halftime lead.
It was the lone stop of the first half for either team.
"It felt good out there," said Bridges, who has 27 TDs this season. "It's always good when you get a chance to see how you respond when the other team punches, and that's what we did. Now it's time to get past that second round game."
Ridgeland has never won a second-round game, but after watching the a 21-point third quarter outburst to put this one away, the Panthers appear headed in the right direction. Noah Cooper added a 30-yard run for a score in the game's final two minutes.
The Panthers allowed just 48 rushing yards in the final half after being gashed early for 185 yards. Washington (8-3) also hurt itself with penalties, getting flagged 11 times for 70 yards.
Cooper added 88 rushing yards on 11 runs and Bell was good for 78 on just seven carries, four of them coming on third-down plays to keep drives alive.
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