Mark Mariakis unleashed the beast Friday night, and in doing so the Ridgeland Panthers made a very loud yet concise statement.
Star senior Vonn Bell, who has been featured only in spurts this year offensively for the Panthers, scored four touchdowns (on five touches) and amassed 271 yards of offense as Ridgeland scored early and often in defeating Dalton 48-21 in the Region 7B-AAAA opener for each team.
"We wanted to come out here and prove to everyone that we rule north Georgia," said Bell, who scored on receptions of 88, 63 and 32 yards in the first half and added a 79-yard touchdown run in the third period before taking the final period off. "I just wanted the ball tonight, because I knew some big plays were there to be made."
The Catamounts (2-3) fumbled away the opening sky kickoff. Ridgeland (4-1) needed just four plays to cover the 23 yards, with senior Darrell Bridges, who also had a big night, scoring from 8 yards out.
Playing in front of representatives from the University of Alabama, Bell then took over. On second down from the Ridgeland 12, quarterback Trevor Long spotted Bell with one-on-one coverage and threw a quick out pass. One move later, he he was off down the sideline for an 88-yard score and 13-0 lead.
Bell struck again on the first play of the second quarter when Bridges threw a halfback pass on third down and Bell, despite being interfered with on the play, hauled the pass in and scored from 63 yards out. After another Dalton three-and-out, Bell effectively put the game away when he and Long connected from 32 yards out and a 27-0 lead.
"We wanted to come out and set the tone early, and once we got rolling it was hard to stop," Mariakis said. "Our kids were challenged because if we want to win this region we had to beat Dalton. Vonn had a big night, as did all our backs. They reaped the rewards of the great play of our offensive line."
Bridges, who led all rushers with 138 yards on 16 carries, scored two touchdowns late in the second quarter on runs of 51 and 3 yards for a 41-0 lead. Dalton, which scored on a Cole Calfee to Brandon Dale 7-yard pass on the half's final play, managed only 130 total yards in the opening two quarters.
"This was a statement game for this team," Mariakis said. "This team was hungry and they showed it."