Vonn Bell walked off the field with a smile, and why not? It was his kind of game.
The Ridgeland free safety and wingback was a factor on both sides of the ball in a hard-hitting 34-24 Region 7A-AAA win over Ringgold at Bowers-Painter Field. Bell scored two touchdowns on highlight-reel plays, but it was his personal battle with Ringgold running back Shaun Anderson that drew most of the attention.
The two butted heads several times, with Anderson, who rushed for 136 yards on 27 brutal carries, winning a few and Bell, who had nearly 20 tackles, taking his share. They had played together in middle school.
"I told my old teammate I was going to get after him tonight, and I had to stand my ground," Bell said. "It was a tough, all-out battle until the end, just like I thought it would be."
While the hitting was fierce, both offenses controlled play. Ridgeland (4-4, 3-1), led by Darrell Bridges' 190 yards rushing, amassed 388 total yards, and the Tigers (5-3, 2-2) gained 373. Neither team punted, though they combined for five turnovers.
"It was a heck of a war out there, and we knew it would be," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "If you aren't a true football player, this game was not for you. We had to match them blow for blow. I'm proud of our coaches for making some adjustments at halftime to slow them down."
Ringgold scored at the 1:02 mark of the third quarter on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Slade Dale to cut Ridgeland's lead to 20-17, but the Panthers came right back. Bridges, a junior who was recently moved to fullback from quarterback, ripped off a 45-yard run on Ridgeland's next play, which also included a 15-yard personal-foul penalty on Ringgold.
Three plays later Torrey Porter scored from 2 yards out for a 10-point lead early in the final quarter. The Tigers again drove deep into Panthers territory, but fumbles on back-to-back plays lost 7 yards and the possession eventually ended on downs at the 28.
Porter (114 yards on 14 carries) then broke off right end for 34 yards, followed by a 31-yard Bridges run and a game-clinching 17-yard scoring run by the hard-running Bridges.
"This is a big win for us in that it makes week 10 mean something," Mariakis said. "We know that if we win our final regular-season game we're in the playoffs, but we're not giving up on the region championship just yet."
Ringgold will play LaFayette next week in what will be a game for the third and final crossover play-in game with the B subregion.