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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The referee flips the coin before Ridgeland's football game against Northwest Whitfield on Friday night in Rossville, Ga.
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Northwest Whitfield vs. Ridgeland

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ROSSVILLE, Ga. — Josh Robinson had been waiting on this moment for some time.

In what will be a signature win for GHSA Region 6-AAAA's most tenured football coach, Northwest Whitfield used a stellar defensive effort and a breakout performance from freshman quarterback Owen Brooker to defeat host Ridgeland 27-16 Friday night.

The Bruins (4-1, 1-0), who had given up 35, 48 and 48 points against the Panthers (1-4, 1-1) in the past three meetings, held Ridgeland to 154 total yards (15 rushing) and rallied from a 16-7 halftime deficit. Brooker overcame a pair of early interceptions that led to both of Ridgeland's touchdowns to throw for 187 yards and a touchdown and add two rushing scores.

"This is about guys coming together when you are down and out," Robinson said. "It was 16-7 and they had the ball multiple times and could have wilted, but the guys just didn't. I am unbelievably excited about this team.

"They made a really good play on one of Owen's interceptions. On the other one, he threw a bad ball, but he's a good football player and that's why he's earned the starting quarterback job. He came back and made a couple of outstanding pulls on the run and some terrific throws."

Brooker started the scoring with a 59-yard run on a keeper, but he threw interceptions on consecutive passes in the second quarter to set Ridgeland up for touchdown "drives" of 1 and 14 yards. The Panthers added a Connor Middleton field goal late in the half to take the nine-point lead into intermission.

Northwest used a big punt return from Matt Redmond to spark its second-half rally, leading to a Yahir Zapata 25-yard field goal after the drive stalled inside the 5. A defensive three-and-out stand was followed with a three-play, 69-yard drive that featured back-to-back completions of 50 and 19 yards to Preston Nealy, the second one reaching the end zone to give the visitors a 17-16 lead.

Hayden Pack kept the momentum going with an interception of Ridgeland freshman quarterback Chase Watkins, returning it to the 12 and leading to another Zapata field goal. A poor snap on a Ridgeland punt later led to the game-clinching 2-yard touchdown run by Brooker.

"We lost our right tackle on Owen's big run, and we've already had another lineman out," Robinson said. "We played with two backup linemen and a freshman quarterback, so this win isn't supposed to happen.

"What happened, though, is 22 guys on the field and 80 guys altogether got the job done. I'm just so proud of this effort all the way around."

Brooker led the Bruins with 67 rushing yards, and Nealy had 98 yards on five catches, four of them in the second half.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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