Ridgeland routs Mary Persons to clinch first semifinal trip - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Ridgeland routs Mary Persons to clinch first semifinal trip

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Ridgeland's Darrell Bridges (left) sheds tackles during the Panthers' 45-14 rout of Mary Persons. Ridgeland's Darrell Bridges (left) sheds tackles during the Panthers' 45-14 rout of Mary Persons.
Vonn Bell scores on a 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Ridgeland's 45-14 win. Vonn Bell scores on a 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Ridgeland's 45-14 win.
Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis hugs linebacker Daniel Johnson after the Panthers' quarterfinal win. Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis hugs linebacker Daniel Johnson after the Panthers' quarterfinal win.

ROSSVILLE, Ga. (WRCB) -- When the clock hit zero, Ridgeland walked onto the field and shook hands with its visitors.

There was no celebration. There were no smiles.

The Panthers every bit like a team that had been in this position before.

Turns out they had just clinched their first-ever trip to the state semifinals with a 45-14 whipping of Mary Persons in the GHSA Class AAAA quarterfinals.

"We still have a job to do," said senior linebacker Daniel Johnson, whose team advances to play Marist next week. "Our ultimate goal is to win a state championship, and that goal has not been met yet.

"We're taking baby steps right now, but we won't celebrate until that goal is met."

Darrell Bridges continued his torrid run through the postseason with 214 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. He's rushed for more than 200 yards in each of Ridgeland's three playoff games and totaled 12 touchdowns.

"They stopped us on that first drive, but we went back to the sideline and regrouped," Bridges said. "We just made it a point to come back out and hit them in the mouth after that, and that's what we did."

The Panthers' defense turned in maybe its best performance of the season, forcing three turnovers and holding the visiting Bulldogs without a first down in the first half. Mary Persons' only two scores came on a short drive after a Ridgeland fumble in the third quarter, and a quick march aided by a personal foul penalty on a kickoff in the fourth.

"It's just about physicality," Johnson said. "We came out in the first half and made sure to be physical, and that was the key for our defense all night."

The Ridgeland offense, meanwhile, rolled its way to 417 rushing yards on the legs of Bridges, Vonn Bell, Noah Cooper and Shaqualm McCoy.

Bridges scored three first-half touchdowns and helped set up a 44-yard Evan Courtney field goal for a 24-0 lead at the break.

After Mary Persons cut the deficit to 24-7 in the third, Bridges broke free on a 31-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one to start the fourth quarter for a 31-7 advantage.

"We've been preaching all along that even though we haven't been behind much, there's going to be adversity," Mariakis said. "They came out and got a turnover and stuck in it, but there was no panic on our sideline.

"The offense goes down and gets it right back. It just shows that our kids, right now, are extremely focused."

Mary Person still had hope after a quick two-minute scoring drive cut the deficit back to 17 with just under nine minutes to play, but Bell scored on a 36-yard jaunt and McCoy busted through on an eight-yarder in the closing minutes to slam the door shut and seal up Ridgeland's first-ever quarterfinal win.

"It's time to go back to work," Mariakis said. "We're still practicing into December. That's a first, but it's one of a lot of firsts this year."

Marist beat Stockbridge 15-7 in the quarterfinals to earn a date with Ridgeland. A coin flip on Saturday will determine the location of the game.

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