With the loss, the Knights (5-5, 4-0) will instead represent the region as the No. 2 seed when they make their debut appearance in the state playoffs. They will host the No. 3 seed of Region 6AAAA.
River Ridge came out of the gate strong and forced Ridgeland (9-1, 4-0), which has scored more than 35 points in every game season, to turn the ball over on downs on its first possession of the game.
The Knights then ate up 7 minutes of the clock on a 13 play, 44-yard drive that saw them facing a fourth-and-goal only a yard away from the Panthers’ goal line.
The Knights elected to go for it, and quarterback Steven Spears punched it in on a roll-out to give River Ridge its only lead of the game.
It wouldn’t take the Panthers long to respond, however, as running back Darrell Bridges evened the score on a 61-yard sprint down the sideline two plays later.
River Ridge’s defense held the Ridgeland on its next possession, and thanks to a short punt, it looked like as if the Knights would take over with decent field position.
Instead, as the ball skipped across the ground with five Ridgeland players surrounding it, River Ridge tried to fall on it and fumbled it away.
The Panthers were quick to capitalize on the mistake, as Noah Cooper ran it in three plays later from 6 yards out.
For the rest of the half, the Ridgeland in total control, as a 37-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Long to Sharone Porter, and a 9-yard run from Vonn Bell gave the Panthers a 28-7 lead heading into halftime.
While River Ridge coach Robert Braucht felt that the mishandled punt gave the Panthers an advantage, he didn’t feel that it altered to outcome of the game.
“It gave them some momentum, but we still had to go out and try to stop them on the next play,” Braucht said. “I don’t think it was a game-changer. It was just a mistake.”
River Ridge fared no better in the second half, as running back Austin Terrell fumbled the ball away on the second play of the third quarter.
Cooper scored once again for Ridgeland three plays later on a 46-yard run.
Bridges also scored twice more in the third quarter on 1- and 22-yard runs.
Though the Knights did eventually score again on E.J. Ellis’ 2-yard run with 7 minutes to go in the fourth, it was too little, too late, and they did not find the end zone again.
River Ridge’s defense seemed to have no answer for Cooper and Bridges, who totaled 243 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns between them.
Leading the Knights was Ellis, who ran for 69 yards on 16 carries to go with his two touchdowns.
Spears was 6-for-11 with 62 yards through the air.
Despite the defeat, Braucht was already looking ahead to River Ridge’s first playoff game next week.
“Well, we are the second seed from the region and are at home next week for the playoffs, so I don’t think anyone will be complaining,” Braucht said. “Obviously, we’d like to be region champs, but the playoffs are what we play all season for.”