Darrell Bridges wanted to join the 2,000-yard club this season, but the Ridgeland High School senior running back isn't going to make it.
Is Bridges disappointed? No, he's rested.
The powerful Panthers offense, averaging more than 40 points per game (30 plus in first halves), is not a one-man show, and while wing-T offenses aren't normally synonymous with the word "explosive," that's just what Ridgeland has been six games into the season.
Thanks to a massive, powerful line and a bevy of playmakers, the Panthers are scoring at a dizzying pace.
"Playing in this offense is great," said Bridges, who despite a lesser workload has 821 yards, a 9.3 yards-per-carry average and 12 touchdowns. "On any play any one of the three or four can break a big play. The way the line is blocking, it's a lot of fun to be out there.
"My goal was to break 2,000 yards this year, but once we start killing people we back off. I'm OK with that."
The last two games have been prime examples for the 5-1 team. Against Dalton, the Panthers roared to a 41-0 lead in the first half behind electric scoring plays from Bridges (51-yard run among his three scores) and fellow senior Vonn Bell, who ripped off an 88-yard touchdown on a screen pass, took a halfback pass from Bridges 63 yards for a score and caught a 32-yard pass from Trevor Long.
Against Southeast Whitfield last week, Bell had touchdowns covering 62, 55 and 86 yards while Bridges had a 16-yard run among his two scores and backfield mate Noah Cooper ripped off a 36-yard touchdown run. All in the first half.
Though the Panthers had a productive offense a year ago with much of the same skill people, it often would take them 10 plays to score. This year, according to coach Mark Mariakis, an improved line, better downfield blocking from the backs and receivers and a different mindset have combined to open things considerably.
"Our offensive line is playing really well," he said of Josh Skates, Grady Matthews, Gannon Hampton, P.J. Gardner, Dustin Davis and tight end Jermane Conyers. "Our biggest difference offensively, though, is that our backs are blocking so well. In the wing-T, if you don't have backs that block well, you're not going to make big plays. Also, we have a very unselfish group of skill guys. They love it no matter who scores. There are no egos."
Only big plays. Bridges' 9.3 per play average is third on the team. Shaqualm McCoy rips off 10 yards per carry, while Bell is averaging 16.4 per carry (411 yards) and an eye-popping 48.3 yards per reception (338 yards). He has 12 touchdowns on 32 combined runs and receptions.
The scary thing for future opponents to consider is the potential of this offense hasn't been reached yet and the coaches have a few wrinkles they're saving for the postseason.
"We've got some stuff we'll hang onto as long as we can," offensive coordinator Eric Edwards said. "With what we've been able to do, and with the way our line and backs are blocking, we can be very multidimensional. The best thing for me as a play-caller is that, no matter who's out there, I don't have to worry about what not to call, because they can do it all."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...