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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Ridgeland's Jeremiah Turner (35), gets past Heritage's Logan Lowe (12), on a way to a Panther touchdown. The Heritage Generals visited the Ridgeland Panthers in a GHSA football game on October 16, 2020.

At 0-5 and facing the start of region play, Ridgeland football coach Kip Klein and his staff knew the only way to salvage what was supposed to be a promising season was to shake some things up.

With Region 7-AAAA rival Heritage coming to Bowers & Painter Field to open league play there was no more time to keep doing what hadn't worked. Not only were the Panthers winless, but they had been outscored by an astounding 227 to 33.

To help turn things around, Klein turned to his best overall player, senior Jeremiah Turner, and asked if would take on a more critical role offensively. Normally a full-time defensive end and fullback, the 220-pounder was at first reluctant to move to tailback, but that changed early in Friday's 21-14 win.

"I knew things were different when I first toted the ball," said Turner, whose first run went for a 44-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1. "I realized this is what I needed to do to help the team the most."

The physical Turner — a throwback, Klein calls him because of that nature — was just getting started. Despite only 11 carries he finished with 230 yards and two touchdowns, the second on a 68-yard run in which he surprised Klein.

"Look, I knew Jeremiah was fast, but I didn't know he was breakaway fast," he said. "He was a star on both sides of the ball. He did everything but sell popcorn and tickets."

In addition to his offensive outburst, Turner added three solo tackles, three assists, a quarterback sack and a game-sealing interception on a Heritage screen pass. For the effort Turner is this week's Times Free Press Player of the Week.

"He and I had a conversation the other day before we started practice for Heritage," Klein said. "I've been trying to get him to embrace going to tailback. He kept saying, 'I'm a fullback and I don't want it to take away from what I do on defense.' I told him you can still do all that if you want and he said okay.

"Having that fullback mentality, in which you hit the line hard, is what we needed. It takes a special player to do that. He's like a throwback player. He's one of those guys who brings his lunch pail to work. He hasn't missed a practice in four years. I've had to pull him out at times because we wanted to keep him healthy, but he's never whined and complained about anything."

Turner admits the weekend was much more enjoyable after breaking the ugly losing streak. The Panthers, he says, remain optimistic they can defend their region championship. For now, though, he's just happy to get that W.

"It was fun because it was a must win for us," said Turner, who recently took his college boards and is fully qualified. "We needed that win, not just for us, but for our fans, too, to keep things from getting down. We had to do something.

"Now, we just have to keep improving and stay together and good things will happen."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22

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