Ridgeland 41, LaGrange 34
ROSSVILLE, Ga. (WRCB) -- Mark Mariakis was exhausted, but he still made plans to celebrate.
The Ridgeland head coach had plenty of reason to do so after watching his Panthers hold off LaGrange 41-34 to advance past the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history.
"I'm getting too old for this," Mariakis said with a wide grin, "but we're going to enjoy this right."
Darrell Bridges rushed for three touchdowns, Vonn Bell added two more and Dillon Peterman came up with the game-sealing interception in the closing minutes to send Ridgeland into next week's Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
The Panthers will host Mary Persons, a 3-0 overtime winner over top-seeded Cairo, next week.
"It's hard to explain the feelings of these guys. That's a great football team we just beat. They have a lot of tradition, but our kids just wouldn't lay their head down," Mariakis said. "We had the chance to go up big, fumbled and gave the ball back, then our kids just hung in there.
"They just were not going to lose this ballgame."
Bridges racked up 254 yards on 30 punishing carries, including scoring runs of seven and 33 to help the Panthers to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
LaGrange rallied with two Benny Gray touchdown runs to pull even at 21-all at the half, then had a chance to take the lead early in the third before Peterman picked off Zach Giddons' pass in the end zone on a fake field goal attempt.
Bridges ripped off a 43-yard run moments later, then capped the drive with a six-yard score to give the Panthers the lead for good. Shaqualm McCoy provided some momentary breathing room with a highlight-reel 42-yard touchdown run for a 35-21 lead on the next drive.
Bell added 132 yards rushing and 27 more receiving. His second touchdown run covered 21 yards and gave Ridgeland a 41-28 lead early in the fourth after Giddons' 20-yard touchdown pass had trimmed the deficit back to seven.
Giddons answered Bell's TD by completing five straight passes, the final one a 34-yarder to Benny Gray to pull the Grangers back within one possession with 5:54 to go.
Ridgeland muscled its way to two first downs before punting the ball back to LaGrange with 2:54 left. Giddons pushed the Grangers across midfield, but Peterman didn't bit on his pump-fake on a first-down pass and pulled down the game-sealing turnover with just over a minute to play.
"We've always been a bend-but-don't-break defense, and you're not going to shut anyone down in the second and third round of the Georgia state playoffs," said Mariakis, whose unit forced five turnovers in the game. "It's about getting stops when you need them and let the offense do what they've been doing all season long, which is put a lot of points on the board.
"That combination finally got us to the third round."
Calhoun 34, Washington-Wilkes 7
CALHOUN, Ga. (WRCB) -- Offensive-minded Calhoun did it with defense in a 34-7 rout of visiting Washington-Wilkes in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs.
The unbeaten Yellow Jackets (12-0) snagged four interceptions and recorded six sacks to advance to a state quarterfinal showdown with fellow top-seed Brooks County, a 49-21 winner over McIntosh County. A coin flip on Saturday will decide where the game will be played.
Alex Urbano fueled the offense with 141 yards on 22 carries, scoring on a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a four-yard score in the third.
Taylor Lamb completed 15-of-24 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns, but was also picked off twice. Tydus Curtis led the Jackets with 119 yards receiving on four catches, including a 61-yard TD from Lamb in the second quarter that put Calhoun up 21-0 at the half.
Murphy 27, Albemarle 24
ALBEMARLE, NC (WRCB) -- Kenton Braswell rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns to lead Murphy to a 27-24 victory over Albemarle in the North Carolina Class 1A Western Regional Final.
The win sends the defending state champion Bulldogs (13-2) back to the state title game for a third straight season. They'll face unbeaten Plymouth (14-0), a 42-14 winner over Princeton in the Eastern Regional Final, in next Saturday's state final at NC State's Carter-Finley Stadium.
Braswell's touchdowns proved to be the difference in the second half.
His 25-yard burst gave Murphy a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter. After a Deon Christian touchdown pass pulled Albemarle within three, Braswell scored again from two yards out for another ten-point cushion in the fourth.
James Posey and Michael Curry each scored on one-yard runs in the first half to give Murphy an early 13-0 lead.
It was the second straight year the Bulldogs beat Albemarle on the road to reach the state final. Last year Murphy advanced with a 42-41 win in the regional final.