Vonn Bell and Darrell Bridges are the best fit for Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis’ offensive philosophy he’s ever coached.
“Combination-wise we haven’t had two as good as those guys,” Mariakis said after Ridgeland scored on its first seven possessions and crushed visiting Dalton, 48-21, Friday night at Bowers and Painter Field in a game that attracted three television crews, two radio stations, various representatives from print and digital media and a recruiter from top-ranked Alabama's coaching staff.
The game turned into such a blowout that the fourth quarter was played with a running clock, dictated by the Georgia High School Association’s mercy rule.
Bell rushed twice for 91 yards and caught three passes for 182. He scored four times on receptions of 88, 62 and 32 yards and broke a 79-yard run to paydirt early in the third quarter to cap his brilliant performance that Crimson Tide assistant coach Lance Thompson witnessed.
“We wanted to make them use weapons other than number 7 (Bell),” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “It turned out that all they needed was number 7.”
However, the Panthers also had Bridges, who rushed 15 times for 131 yards and touchdowns of 8, 50 and 3 yards. He also threw a touchdown pass to – who else? – Bell.
Bell and Bridges helped the Panthers (4-1, 1-0 Sub-region 7B-4A) pile up 484 yards of offense in dismantling the outclassed Catamounts (2-3, 0-1), who trailed, 41-7, at halftime.
“Bell and Bridges are really dangerous because you’ve got the outside game and the inside game,” said Mariakis, who went 4-16 in his first two years at Ridgeland but is 52-21 over the last six-plus seasons. “That makes them unique.
“Bridges does a great job running inside, breaking tackles and having enough speed to break a long one if you miss a tackle in the secondary. Bell is, uh, just Bell. He’s a tremendous threat no matter where he’s at. That combination is probably as good as we’ve ever had.”
The hard-charging Bridges got the Panthers started with his 8-yard touchdown run just 1 minute, 52 seconds into the game. The score was set up when Ridgeland’s Jeremy Masley recovered a Dalton fumble on the opening kickoff.
Then Bell caught a short pass from quarterback Trevor Long and turned it into an 88-yard touchdown play at the 5:29 mark.
Dalton, which was coming off a 35-7 pasting by Cass, a team that went 0-10 in 2011, was staggered by the quick haymakers to the head by the Panthers, who have made six straight state playoff appearances.
Unfortunately for Dalton, Ridgeland’s punches just kept on coming.
Things really went south for Dalton, which still leads the series with Ridgeland, 18-3, in a 28-point second quarter.
Bridges hooked up with Bell on a 62-yard scoring pass. Long found Bell for a 32-yard strike for six points. Bridges bolted 50 yards for a score and followed that with a 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Panthers a shocking 41-0 advantage.
Bell finished with 273 yards of total offense.
Bridges gained 131 and tossed in the long touchdown to Bell.
“With this backfield and an elite offensive line,” Bell said, “we can always make big plays. We’re the big dogs. We’re ruling North Georgia and we showed tonight what Ridgeland football was all about.”
Bell, a 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound senior, has narrowed his collegiate choices to Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio State. He was supposed to visit the Buckeyes this weekend, but due to a rugged travel itinerary chose to postpone the trip.
“He was going to have to drive to Nashville after the game, catch a 2 a.m. flight to get up there late, do the all-day recruiting thing, including a game, get back on Sunday and go to school on Monday,” Mariakis said. “It’s just too much for him during the season. He’s going to wait until after the season to go up there.”
Ridgeland’s game plan was simple:
The offensive line had to block well. Check.
Bell and Bridges had to be electric and literally shock the Cats. Check.
The Panthers’ defense needed to play as stout as it did last week in beating Pickens, 35-7, and the previous week when it held Cedartown running back Nick Chubb, the state of Georgia’s leading prep rusher – who had three games of at least 350 rushing yards prior to facing Ridgeland – to just over 100 yards. Check
Ridgeland held Dalton sophomore running back Kelvis Rhodes, who came into the game averaging 168.3 rushing yards, to just 20 yards on seven carries. Rhodes did not play in the second half.
Ridgeland’s defense was masterful and the offense played brilliantly.
Bridges’ first touchdown set the tone for the entire game.
“We gave Dalton a wake-up call,” Bridges said. “We punched them in the mouth and we kept it up the whole game. This game should shock everybody in the region.”
There was no secret what Ridgeland wanted to do against Dalton, which has lost back-to-back games by a combined score of 83-28. The Panthers approach each game the same way.
What was the game plan?
“Go right at them,” Mariakis said. “We wanted to overwhelm them. Offensively, that’s our objective – run the football. That’s our personality. We’ve got a great offensive line and some great backs. If we establish the offensive line and pound the football, that’s to our benefit. Nobody wants to get the ball run at them all night long and not be able to stop it.
“I’ve been on the other side when that’s happened and it’s demoralizing. Dalton was going to have to stop us because we were going to keep running the football.”
Mariakis said he’s backfield threats actually go four deep, adding that Noah Cooper and Shaqualm McCoy are also outstanding playmakers. They combined for 69 yards rushing against Dalton.
Dalton came into the game with its own plan – slow down the Panthers’ ground juggernaut. The strategy fizzled quickly.
“We knew they were explosive and knew what we had to do to win this game,” said Land, 13-13 in three seasons leading the Cats. “But we didn’t execute. That’s on me. We’ll go back to the drawing board and get ready for next week.”
Ironically, the 48 points Dalton gave up Friday was not a season high. Top-ranked Calhoun clubbed the Cats, 55-41, in the second game of the season. Calhoun also handed Ridgeland’s its lone loss by a 42-35 score in the season opener.
Dalton simply was no match for Ridgeland’s offensive firepower. The Panthers average 40.4 points per game, but their first-half onslaught even caught Mariakis by surprise.
“I can’t remember many like that,” he said. It’s sure easier to talk to the kids at halftime with a lead like that. But anybody would be surprised with that kind of lead against anybody, particularly against a team like Dalton. That’s not normal for them.
“At the same time, our kids believe that once they establish the line of scrimmage we can do things like we did tonight. I don’t think we punted against Pickens and we punted once, I think, tonight with the starters in there.”
Dalton managed to avert a first-half shutout when quarterback Cole Calfee found Brandon Dale in the back of the end zone one a 7-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
That same tandem hooked up on a 64-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving Dale, the team’s leading receiver, five touchdown catches.
Marvin Hill got Dalton’s final touchdown on a 12-yard run.
Score by quarters
Dalton 0 7 0 14 – 21
Ridgeland 13 28 7 0 – 48
How They Scored
RID –Darrell Bridges 8 run (Evan Courtney kick), 10:08
RID – Vonn Bell 88 pass from Trevor Long (kick failed), 5:29
RID – Bell 62 pass from Bridges (Courtney kick), 11:49
RID – Bell 32 pass from Long (Courtney kick), 8:47
RID – Bridges 50 run (Courtney kick), 4:29
RID – Bridges 3 run (Courtney kick), 1:02
DAL – Brandon Dale 7 pass from Cole Calfee (Kiko Rodriguez kick), 0:00
RID – Bell 79 run (Courtney kick), 11:05
DAL – Dale 64 pass from Calfee (Rodriguez kick), 9:25
DAL – Marvin Hill 12 run (Rodriguez kick), 1:26
First Downs 17 15
Rushes-Yds. 31-159 36-298
Passing Yds. 135 124
Com.-Att.-Int. 6-15-0 4-4-0
Total Yds 484 294
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Punts.-Avg. 4-46.2 3-32.0
Penalties-Yds. 4-35 7-70
RUSHING — Dalton: Robert Hardaway 8-42, Marvin Hill 7-40, Jerry Moreno 4-32, Cole Calfee 5-25, Kelvis Rhodes 7-20, D.L. Goins 1-0; Ridgeland: Darrell Bridges 15-131, Vonn Bell 2-91, Noah Cooper 10-42, Shaqualm McCoy 3-27, Bradley Stailey 3-11, George Johnson 3-minus 4.
PASSING — Dalton: Calfee 6-15-0 135; Ridgeland: Trevor Long 3-3-0 124, Bridges 1-1-0 62.
RECEIVING — Dalton: Brandon Dale 2-81, Brandon Painter 2-21, Hardaway 1-17, Randy Nguyen 2-16; Ridgeland: Bell 3-182, Sharone Porter 1-4.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)