By David Purdum / For the AJC
Rossville — The Ridgeland Panthers are headed to the Georgia Dome for the first time in school history, thanks to a blocked extra point and a trick-play touchdown with 36 seconds to play.
Darrell Bridges hit Shaqualm McCoy on a 24-yard half-back pass, and Marist’s potential game-winning field goal hit the right upright as time expired, giving Ridgeland a thrilling 28-27 win in a Class AAAA state semifinal game Friday.
Bridges, a converted quarterback, threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more, including an 89-yard sprint up the middle that tied the score, 21-21, with 8:21 to play. Bridges finished with 164 yards on the ground and 107 yards passing.
Marist answered with a long scoring drive, converting on a 4th-and-5 and regaining the lead on Myles Willis 26-yard touchdown run with three minutes to play.
Ridgeland’s Sharone Porter blocked the ensuing extra point, though, keeping Marist’s lead at 27-21 with three minutes to play. It would prove costly for the War Eagles.
Ridgeland drove 77 yards in 11 plays, taking advantage of a pass interference penalty and converting on a fourth down, before Bridges took a pitch from quarterback Trevor Long and found McCoy for the winning touchdown.
Marist quickly moved into field-goal position and was at the Ridgeland 17 with 5.6 seconds left. Fletcher Malloy’s 34-yard attempt had the distance, but glanced off the right upright, sending Ridgeland (13-1) to the AAAA championship game.
Griffin King scored two touchdowns for the War Eagles (12-1), who didn’t trail until Ridgeland’s Evan Courtney drilled the final extra point.
Marist tight end Greg Taboada caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Willis in the first quarter. Marist led 14-7 at halftime.
Vonn Bell, Ridgeland’s talented two-way star, caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from Bridges in third quarter and finished with 127 total yards.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me and this community,” said Bell, a senior. “It means everything.”
Marist 7 7 0 13 – 27
Ridgeland 7 7 7 7 – 28
M – Greg Taboada 29 pass from Myles Willis (Thomas Andrews kick) 7-0
R – Darrell Bridges 2 run (Evan Courtney kick)
M – Griffin King 16 run (Andrews kick) 7:12
R – Vonn Bell 57 pass from Bridges (Courtney kick)
M – King 3 run (Andrews kick) 9:05
R – Bridges 89 run (Courtney kick) 8:28 21-21
M – Willis 26 run (kick blocked)
R –Shaqualm McCoy 24 pass from Bridges (Courtney kick)