RINGGOLD, Ga. - This was the right game at the right time for the Ringgold Tigers.
Faced with their biggest showdown in years next week with a winner-take-all Region 5-AAA battle in Cartersville, the Tigers had their biggest rivals show up on their doorstep to provide the perfect tune-up game Friday at Don Patterson Field.
The Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Warriors are far from the worst team in the region, but their vulnerable defense was what the doctor ordered for Ringgold's erratic passing attack.
Senior quarterback Slade Dale threw for five of Ringgold's six touchdown passes on a night whenthe Tigers sent people scrambling for the school record book in a 56-7 win over the Warriors. Ringgold (8-1, 6-0) put up 605 total yards in the game, including 380 passing (276 by Dale), to claim its ninth straight Catoosa Cup.
"It's a big win, historic in that this is [another] senior class that did not lose to LFO," Tigers coach Robert Akins said. "I'm very happy with the way we played tonight.
"We were able to get the football to some people we hadn't thrown to. We had every intention of coming out throwing, because we expected them them to put eight in the box."
Which, Akins knew, would be an exercise in futility. His big, veteran offensive line was still able to clear holes for the running game, as the Tigers ran for 227 yards.
Beginning with Ringgold's second drive, the Warriors were defenseless. Christian Plott caught a 40-yard bomb from Dale to open the night's scoring, and the next possession, earned on a Dakota Baer interception, included DL Goins turning a screen pass into a 61-yard broken-field beauty of a run that made the game 14-0 after a quarter.
Goins lined up as a tight end and took a slant pass to the post for Ringgold's third score as the second quarter opened. Then Logan Baldwin, honoring injured senior teammate Austin Phelps by wearing his No. 31 jersey, got them both a TD with a leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
That 28-0 second-quarter lead seemed satisfactory, but it suddenly became 35 when up back Plott turned a fake punt into six points with a toss to J.T. Roach, who did the rest of the work on a 54-yard touchdown.
The third quarter allowed Dale and his fellow starters to take a few bows. He scrambled in from 12 yards out for his 13th rushing TD of the year, then found tight end Dallas McGee for his first score with a leaping catch.
Backup tailback Adrian Hart made up for an earlier fumble wieth a 26-yard scoring run that left Ringgold up 56-0. The Warriors, using mostly starters, drove 74 yards to get on the board on a 30-yard run by Shamar Catoe.
The night's most spectacular play did not count. On the final play of the first half, LFO quarterback Sky Rodgers threw into a crowded end zone, with Ringgold's Kile Sholl making the interception 6 yards deep. Sholl saw an opening, cut back against the grain and sent the crowd into a frenzy with his 106-yard touchdown return. But a yellow flag at the Ringgold 25 meant the play went for naught.
"They said illegal block, but I'm not so sure," Akins said. "I told Kile it didn't matter -- we were leaving that play in our highlights video. People will forget about the penalty."
Ringgold is assured of a home playoff game in two weeks regardless of next week's result against the unbeaten Purple Hurricane.