Class AAAA Title Game (5:30 p.m)
Sandy Creek (14-0) vs. Ridgeland (13-1)
Overview: Sandy Creek is looking to win its third state title in four years. The Patriots won the Class AAAA crown in 2009 and the AAA title in 2010. The Region 5-AAAA championship was their fifth straight region title and seventh since 2003. Ridgeland is making its first state finals appearance. The Panthers claimed their fourth region crown in five years by winning the 7-AAAA championship.
Sandy Creek season: The Patriots have been ranked No. 1 since the beginning of the season and has lived up to that billing, running roughshod over 5-AAAA. No team has held them to less than 30 points, and only once have they won by fewer than 22 points, that coming in the quarterfinals against Burke County. The Patriots average 43.9 points per game.
Ridgeland season: After a shootout loss to Class AA power Calhoun in their season opener, the Panthers have reeled off 13 straight wins, none of them close at the end until last week, when a Marist field goal attempt as time expired hit the upright. Ridgeland averages 42.1 points per game and allows 17.9 points per game.
Sandy Creek strength: Run defense. The defensive line, anchored by Chris Willams (77 total tackles, 11 sacks, 17 tackles for loss) suffocates opponents. As a team the Patriots have 89 tackles for loss in 14 games. Carrollton, which averaged 240 rushing yards per game, managed 133 against Sandy Creek. Two playoff games against prolific running teams yielded similar results.
Ridgeland strength: Rushing offense. In a wing-T attack, the Panthers have four backs with more than 500 yards for the season, led by fullback Darrell Bridges with 2,301 yards and 39 touchdowns. They average 353.9 yards per game on the ground, accounting for 83 percent of their offense.
Sandy Creek’s top players: Jr. QB Cole Garvin has 2,491 passing yards and 20 touchdowns … Soph. RBs Eric Swinney and Delvin Weems each has more than 1,000 rushing yards … Jr. WR Demarre Kitt has 68 catches for 1,151 yards and 11 TDs. Jr. LB Khari Lain has 99 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and five pass breakups … Sr. OL Alan Knott (Committed to South Carolina) … Sr. DB Shaquille Wiggins (Committed to Georgia).
Ridgeland’s top players: Sr. DB/RB Vonn Bell has 1,039 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, 18 receptions for 627 yards and 7 TDs. Bell also has 136 total tackles, including 5 tackles for loss, and five interceptions to go with two forced fumbles and five pass breakups. Sr. RB Darrell Bridges … Sr. OL/DL Gannon Hampton has 22 tackles for loss.
On Sandy Creek: “From an offensive standpoint, there’s a lot of things you can kind of get lost in. The speed of their running backss, the size of their receivers, but the most impressive thing to me was their offensive line. It was the most physical line we played all year.”
– Dalton Coach Matt Land, whose team lost 35-13 to Sandy Creek on Nov. 23
On Ridgeland: “Bell is going to beat you one or two plays going into the game, and you know that. But they’re going to pound you to death with that fullback. You’re having to respect the speed of Bell … they’re moving him all over the field to draw your attention. I’d load up and stop the fullback. Bridges is going to touch the ball if the game’s on the line.”
– Land, whose team lost 48-21 to Ridgeland on Oct. 5.
AJC pick: Sandy Creek 34, Ridgeland 27