Devin O'Connor lived every defensive lineman's dream Thursday night, but in doing so he put a damper on what was becoming a dream season for the Ringgold Tigers.
O'Connor, a senior defensive end for Cartersville, intercepted a fourth-quarter pass after tipping the ball and returned it 34 yards for what would prove to be the winning touchdown in a 21-7 win over the Tigers at Finley Stadium.
"I just got around the edge and I got my hand up when I saw it was a pass," said O'Connor, who pressured Ringgold's offense all night. "I looked up and the ball came right down into my hands, and I had to take it to the house."
The turnover was one of four for the Tigers (3-1), while the Purple Hurricanes (2-2) played turnover-free. The mistakes, which included a touchdown-negating fumble into the Cartersville end zone in the first quarter, helped prompt Ringgold coach Robert Akins to question his team's offensive scheme despite three consecutive wins to start the season.
"You talk about mistakes and you talk about trying to have a perfect game, but it's hard to do in the option game," he said. "Right now people are packing the box on us trying to stop the run. Coaching wise we've got to take a step back and look at what we're doing. It's not the kids' fault; blame it on the coaches. I thought we looked really good in the spread and we may have to go back to that, because we're not doing a good job powering people."
Cartersville scored first as quarterback Tyler Will hit a pair of 20-yard passes to key a 62-yard drive that took only five plays in the second quarter. Marcus Jones scored from 2 yards out in a defense-dominated half.
Ringgold tied the game in the third quarter when, following Shaun Anderson's 32-yard run, quarterback Slade Dale passed to Trevon Gainer for a touchdown on a third-and-20 fade pattern.
The Tigers regained the ball early in the fourth period at their own 33, but on second down O'Connor made his game-changing play. Ringgold's next possession ended on a Byron Davis sack of Dale, with the 'Canes taking their next drive 67 yards in eight plays, capped by Brandon Long's 2-yard run for the clinching touchdown.
Long topped Cartersville with 100 yards rushing on 14 carries, with Jones adding 56 yards. Dale topped Ringgold with 98 yards on 19 carries.
"We'll make some decisions on what our personality is and hopefully come back a better team," Akins said. "This was a measuring stick for us, but I think we'll rebound. It's almost like with the tornado. Despite all that devastation, our kids rebounded well, and I think they will from this as well."