After holding a narrow 7-0 halftime lead, the Panthers (1-1) showed the power that allowed them to beat the Knights twice last season and become the Class AAAA state runner-up.
River Ridge (0-3) outgained Ridgeland 324-253, but it lost the turnover battle 4-0, largely due to three second-half interceptions by Ridgeland safety Chase Crawford.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and changed some things on offense” Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. “Chase did a good job. He’s a great athlete and he made some plays for us. (River Ridge is) a good football team. They’re well-coached. They got some big plays in the second half when we had some defensive breakdowns, but that’s what good teams do.”
After managing zero yards in the passing game in the first half, River Ridge quarterback Steven Spears found a rhythm in the fourth quarter when he hit a wide-open Tanner Hicks for a 56-yard touchdown, cutting the Ridgeland lead to 21-6 with 6:51 left in the game.
The Panthers then returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, only to watch Spears make another big play. The Knights’ signal-caller scrambled around in the pocket and launched a pass to Tyler Keeney, this time for a 53-yard score.
Spears went on to finish the night 13-for-22 for 201 yards.
Ridgeland’s rushing attack had the last say however, as the Panthers added scoring runs of 10 and 20 yards from Cooper and Calvin Davenport to finish the game.
Caderius Word led Ridgeland’s run game with 60 yards on 16 carries.
After a scoreless first quarter, Ridgeland made its first trip to the end zone on a 1-yard run by Cooper. The run capped a 10-play, 69-yard drive in which the Knights committed two personal-foul penalties.
Ridgeland struck again on its first drive of the second half when Cooper dove into the end zone again, this time from 4 yards out and finishing an eight-play, 46-yard possession that gave the visitor a 14-0 lead.
Word added a 1-yard score for a 21-0 lead later in the third quarter.
“Ridgeland made some good adjustments, obviously,” River Ridge coach Robert Braucht said. “The good news is that our guys played with emotion all night. We had a much better week of practice. I know the outcome is not what we want, but they showed me that we’re doing the right things as players, as coaches, and as a program.”
Despite remaining winless on the season, Braucht maintained a positive outlook, with next week’s long trip to LaFayette, near the Tennessee border, on the horizon.
“The biggest thing is that we have multiple guys that we can go to still,” he said. “We still have an arsenal. We still can throw the ball. We may have made some minor mistakes, but we’ll be alright. Our guys can make some plays, and for a good while, it kept us in the game.”