For the Darrell Bridges and his Ridgeland Panthers football teammates, if one important streak was going to continue, their two-game losing streak had to end.
Bridges paced an overpowering rushing attack with 179 yards and the defense forced seven turnovers as the three-time defending Region 7-AAA champion Panthers overwhelmed LaFayette 26-14.
"We talked about that all week," Bridges said after scoring the clinching touchdown among his 28 carries, "that we may be 1-4, but the region championship still goes through us no matter what."
Bridges, a quick junior, and senior power back Torrie Porter, who had 120 yards and a rushing score, muscled and motored through an overworked LaFayette defense that was forced into one corner after another by turnovers.
LaFayette lost two fumbles in the first quarter -- including a friendly bounce that Porter scooped up and returned for a 29-yard score and a quick 7-0 lead. With the early turnovers and the relentless running game, Ridgeland ran 22 first-quarter plays to LaFayette's five and took a 14-0 lead on Vonn Bell's 15-yard scoring run capped a drive set up by the second lost fumble.
"You can't turn over the ball over seven times and expect to beat a team like Ridgeland," LaFayette coach Tad Gable said. "Give them all the credit -- they forced us into a lot of those mistakes and took advantage of them."
LaFayette's most effective play was giving the ball to hiccup-quick tailback Devarus Porter, who had a 63-yard second-quarter touchdown run that was keyed by a crushing block from receiver Jordan Teems. Porter's long run got the Ramblers on the board and accounted for almost half of his total of 133 yards.
Will Mefford's 47-yard fumble return for a score pulled LaFayette even, but from there it was all Ridgeland, which got an impressive showing from its entire defense that was highlighted by two interceptions and a fumble recovery from Xavier Turner.
"We've been close," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said after his team improved to 2-4, "and we've played some good teams. But we're still the champs until someone takes it from us."