TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — Ridgeland brought the train with it Friday night.
The Panthers enter home football games to the sights and sounds of a railroad crossing, a warning to opponents to watch out for the freight train. On the road in a key Region 6-AAAA opener, Ridgeland steamrolled all over Northwest Whitfield, 48-7, displaying domination on both sides of the ball.
"We really played great in all facets of the game," said Ridgeland coach Wesley Tankersley, who admitted the performance made a statement. "This sets the tone for the rest of the season, and if we can clean up a few things we can have a special season."
Even with a running clock for most of the final quarter, the Panthers (5-0) put up 551 total yards to just 148 for the usually potent Bruins. The deadly duo of fullback Jalyn Shelton (19 carries, 133 yards and three touchdowns) and wingback Markeith Montgomery (93 rushing yards, 104 receiving and two scores) highlighted an offense that did major damage inside, outside and over the top.
Northwest (3-2) made the first statement, though, using a 42-yard scramble by senior quarterback Luke Shiflett and his 35-yard touchdown pass to Jaret Staten two plays later for a quick 7-0 lead.
It was all silver and black after that. Ridgeland needed only four plays to tie the game, with quarterback Tanner Hill quickly proving the Panthers' passing attack can't be ignored by completing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Stephon Walker (three catches, 101 yards). Hill was in control of the offense all night, finishing 7-of-9 passing for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
"We can score a lot of ways," Montgomery said. "We can throw it this year, so teams better watch out, and our defense is lights out."
While the Ridgeland offense was scoring on its first three drives, capped by Shelton touchdown runs of 2 and 5 yards, the defense was smothering Shiflett and company. Lineman Derayl Helton harassed Shiflett much of the game, while Jordan Blackwell, Jordan Hughley and Elijah Foshay made tackles sideline to sideline.
Shiflett completed just 10 of 21 passes for 102 yards, while big fullback Dominique Sistrunk, who came in with 550 yards, was held to 15 on 11 carries.
"I've been telling everybody our defense is definitely improved," Tankersley said. "We've got a lot of speed on that side of the ball, and it showed tonight."
That defense overcame the offense's lone turnover of the night up 21-7, forcing a punt at the Ridgeland 46, then withstood a shanked 17-yard punt with a stout three-and-out inside Panthers territory.
Northwest didn't sniff midfield again.
Ridgeland took the second-half kickoff and went 80 yards in just four plays, with Montgomery ripping off a 37-yard run and Shelton capping the swift drive with a 34-yard run. Moments later, after a leaping 37-yard catch by Walker pushed the ball deep into Northwest territory, Montgomery made it 34-7 with a 1-yard dive.
Montgomery added a 51-yard touchdown after catching a short pass and weaving through the tired Northwest defense. Gabe McDonald capped the scoring with a 19-yard run early in the fourth to start the running clock.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.