50 in 50: Ridgeland

The offensive numbers for the Ridgeland Panthers in 2012 were simply too large to ignore. The Panthers rushed for more than 5,000 yards, a key factor in their 13-2 record and appearance in the Class AAAA state championship game. They scored 40 points or more 10 times and only twice – in the semifinals and the finals – were they held below 35.

The vast majority of that production will graduate next weekend, including top two rushers Darrell Bridges (nearly 2,400 yards) and Vonn Bell (1,100). Between them they accounted for 61 total touchdowns.

“I don’t know that you can ever replace them. When you look at their production numbers they’re gaudy, x-boxish,” Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. “They had incredible numbers offensively and deefensively, but more than that was the attitude they brought to the field. They brought those intangibles to each huddle.”

The intangibles, he said, were the difference between the 2012 team and those that came before it.

“From top to bottom I’m not sure that was the best team we’ve ever had, athletically, but they were the best team we’ve had,” Mariakis said. “Everybody understood that we had one goal.”

Bell, who is headed to Ohio State, and Bridges were part of a group of 15 seniors, a smallish class that had an outsized impact.

With all that, it’s easy to expect a dropoff in 2013. Mariakis understands that thinking, but he said the expecations really haven’t changed.

“We’re excited about this group,” he said. “We’re excited about the youth we have because it’s athletic. It’s a matter of how quickly they grow up. The thing is, everybody understands what it takes to win.”

Here’s another number – 135. That’s how many players the Panthers dressed out for spring practice. Mariakis said he there were 39 in the program when he took the job nine years ago.

“It’s a good thing we had a good year last year,” he said. “We had to spend $15,000 on equipment to outfit all of them. It’s a good exciting group.”

RB Noah Cooper, who will be a senior this fall, is the leading returning rusher and figures to be the featured back, with more than 800 yards and 10 TDs last year. Finding complementary skilled players was a key point of emphasis for the Panthers during spring drills. Mariakis said it was important for the team to develop offensive guards to fit the spread scheme that calls for pulling guards.

“Guards are vital,” he said. “We’ve got to have athletic guards that can move and run and make plays in space.”

Defensively, LB DeAngelo Smith (133 total tackles) is the leading returning tackler. DB Dillon Peterman returns and likely will take over Bell’s spot at safety. Peterman led the team with five interceptions in 2012 to go with 71 total tackles.

Ridgeland Panthers

2012 record: 13-2, 5-0 Region 7-AAAA Division B, lost in state finals to Sandy Creek.

Starters returning: 5 offense; 6 defense

Key players lost: DB Vonn Bell, RB Darrell Bridges, OL Gannon Hampton, OL Dustin Davis, QB Trevor Long, LB Daniel Johnson

Key players returning: DB Dillon Peterman, RB Noah Cooper, LB DeAngelo Smith, TE/DE Jermaine Conyers, OL P.J. Gardner, OL Josh Gates

Schedule: Aug. 30 Calhoun, Sept. 13 at River Ridge, Sept. 20 at Cedartown, Sept. 27 Pickens, Oct. 4 at Dalton, Sept. 11 Southeast Whitfield, Oct. 18 Northwest Whitfield, Oct. 25 at LaFayette, Nov. 1 Hertigate-Catoosa, Nov. 8 Region play-in game.

Outlook: After taking a big step forward for the best season in school history, Ridgeland figures to take a step back after the graduation of players who accounted for 80 percent of the offensive yards in 2012. of the four semifinal teams in 2012, they seem to have the most questions.

12 comments Add your comment


May 23rd, 2013
7:51 am

Thank God for graduation.


May 23rd, 2013
10:56 am

Still waiting on Sandy Creek to make the list. Their are several teams on this list that SC defeated soundly .
SC 45 Ridgeland 10 State Championship Game 2012
SC 35 Monroe Area 0 Playoff game 2012
SC 31 Carrollton 7 Should have been a shoutout 2012
SC 31 Burke County 20 Playoff game 2012
SC 35 Peach County 17 Playoff game 2010
SC 41Monroe Area 0 Playoff game 2010
Also Defeated Stockbridge , Tucker, and Whitewater lost to Gainesville in the 2011 playoff on some questionable calls


May 23rd, 2013
2:55 pm

FCF – you had me up to those questionable calls unless you are referring to the calls to keep trying to throw the ball when Mike Hilton was gashing them over and over only to see SC keep trying to force the passing game. Gainesville played a better game that night, is what it is.


May 23rd, 2013
7:12 pm

I don’t think Gainesville was better team that night like FCF a few questionable calls change the outcome of that game. When your are the road team playing in a hostile environment, riding a 41 game winning streak, down by 14, roar back and tie the game , get the ball back and driving to take lead and the refs gives the ball back to Gainesville on a fumble the ground clearly caused not to mention you stop Gainesville on a big third down the refs calls a personal foul on the defense in which the offensive player shoves the defensive player and SC about seized the momentum.

Jay Stone

May 23rd, 2013
9:00 pm

Sandy Creek’s coming next week.

I covered the first five games you list here, and the interesting thing about those games is the variety of ways SC got to the final score. Peach and Burke were close late in the third quarter beore SC made big plays to turn the games around. Carrollton had two bad punt snaps and SC capitalized. Carrollton might never have scored anyway, but those two plays made a huge different.


May 24th, 2013
5:52 am

I’m a Creek fan to the core. And saying that, Gainesville played great that night in 2011 and beat the Creek fair and square. Creek just couldn’t slow down Watson and that offense.
The 2012 Creek defense was pretty awesome, and the offense returns most of the skill guys.
The 2013 Creek team looks legit on offense, but not as good on overall defense or on the special teams.
But, best of luck to Ridgeland in 2013!

Creek Rising

May 24th, 2013
7:57 am

Creek to the bone and we will stink as usual, but this is about Ridgeland and though they were overmatched in the dome, those kids played with the heart of a winner and their fans were great too. I hope they have another great season and make noise in the playoffs once again.

Sandy Creek

May 24th, 2013
9:08 am

@Jay Stone
“interesting thing about those games is the variety of ways SC got to the final score.”


You don’t blow the doors off of everyone, every game. Especially deep in the playoffs against defending champs as both Peach Co. & Burke Co. were. Maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but it sounds like you are insinuating that SC was fortunate to win those games? Maybe Burke was lucky to be in the game at that point considering they had two deep td’s that literally went through SC defender’s hands. Bottom line is, you can cut it up any which way you like, but when two great teams get together with a bunch on the line, it usually comes down to a handful of plays.

Were there blown/questionable calls in the Gainesville game? Maybe…..but SC came back with a vengeance the next year and won it. Just take the L and move on…..some of you sound like sour grapes.


May 24th, 2013
9:21 am

I think we will be better on Defense but nowhere near as good on O. Overall it will be very hard to get back to the dome but a nice playoff run is certainly possible if not probable. This is the big talented senior class everyone has been pointing to for years. Last year we were ahead of schedule because some transfers that no one had heard of coming in, turned out to be really great players and elevated that tiny senior class to such great heights.

Golden Isles Fan

May 24th, 2013
7:37 pm

GO CAMDEN COUNTY WILDCATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ryan Askew

May 26th, 2013
2:19 pm

When it comes to high school football. There is a lot of back and forth. Here in Georgia with the region changes and realignment it has become a whoever type thing.

Sandy Creek will probably repeat and win if Marist doesn’t make it to the State Championship games which is a big if with the coaches still being the same with the so called triple offense the dumbest game plan on the planet, but they have been like that since Moses parted the sea, and they are to dumb to come up with a different game plan to fit the talent of their athletes.

Then you have Chamblee who will defend their crown on go to 8-0 and prove after eight games they are the best of the worst teams in the region.

4-A has two power houses Marist and Sandy Creek.
Sandy Creek’s defense compliments it’s offense to the point teams like Ridgeland have to keep their fingers crossed and hope someone upsets them in the playoff’s

Marist lost to themselves against Ridgeland which I knew they would get blown out against Sandy Creek.

Marist greatest down fall will always be, They have the right kids and talent to win it all, but they still have the weakest coaches in the state and I think just like 2003 despite their no imagination and no creative coaches, they have a strong chance to go all the way to state and Beat Sandy Creek.

If not, you have to wonder how long will Marist subject the hard work that those kids endure in training just to lose because of the terrible coaching.


May 29th, 2013
12:56 pm

Ridgeland will be more athletic and not so one dimensional this year.. I’m not by any means saying they’re headed to the dome. I just think they have the potential to Rly make some noise. First game of the season is home against Calhoun. That’s a pretty good measuring stick .