The Knights’ first region test — of the season and of their young football history — will come with their longest trip of the season, into the outskirts of Chattanooga, Tenn. River Ridge will travel Friday to Ridgeland, a perennial power and an early favorite within the region.
“I think we can definitely count on them to be one of the top teams in this region, and they will be a really tough test,” River Ridge coach Robert Braucht said of Ridgeland, which has made six straight trips to the state playoffs and won three straight region titles at the Class AAA level from 2008-10.
“We want to have a good showing, and it would be big for our kids to do so because we think we can be a sleeper within the region.”
Braucht went on to say that the biggest challenge Ridgeland brings to the table is its sheer athleticism, labeling the Panthers as the biggest and fastest team he has seen on film since the Knights started playing varsity football.
Ridgeland is led by all-state safety/running back Vonn Bell, a U.S. Army All-American nominee that holds offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Georgia and many other top collegiate programs.
Bell, who spends most of his time on defense, ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries in the Panthers’ season-opening 42-35 loss to Calhoun, when Ridgeland nearly upended the defending Class AA state champs.
Bell is one of a number of weapons in an athletic Wing-T offense that Braucht said had some similarities to Creekview and was exactly like the offense Sequoyah ran in the Knights’ season-opening 41-14 loss to the Chiefs.
“When you play a good team, like we are playing this week, execution is always the key,” Braucht said. “There were times (last year) when we got away with not quite executing well and just overpowering smaller schools.
“I thought we finally did that in the second half against Creekview last week, especially on defense.”
After falling behind 24-0 at halftime, River Ridge held Creekview’s offense to a single field goal in the second half.
Braucht said his team would need to duplicate that intensity for all four quarters to stand a chance against Ridgeland.
“We can’t wait around to find out what their speed is like. We have to come out with some killer instinct,” Braucht said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, and we have to find a way to play like it for every snap and every quarter.”
The game, the first of three crossover games between teams from Region 7AAAA’s northern and southern subregions, won’t count towards the teams’ subregion records, but it can factor into postseason tiebreakers according to Braucht.