UPDATED at 11:25 p.m.; check out our gallery of pictures at
Sandy Creek’s football team has a tendency to make things look easy – it’s hard not to when you are 55-2 since 2009. Make that 56-2 since the Patriots captured the 2012 Class AAAA championship with a 45-10 victory over Ridgeland.
Sandy Creek went 63 yards on their opening drive in under a minute and a half and Eric Swinney scored the first of two first half touchdowns with a six yard run. Ridgeland kept it close for the first quarter and the Panthers did have one sustained drive but Sandy Creek pulled away in the second quarter with 24 more points. Delvin Weems rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns in the half, Mitchell McMillin had a 35 yard field goal and the Sandy Creek defense was oppressive.
Junior Khari Lain made his 100th tackle of the season on Ridgeland’s opening drive as Sandy Creek dominated the first half not even allowing the Ridgeland offense once into the red zone. While Ridgeland did come close on their second drive, thanks in part to a half-back pass from from the potent Darrell Bridges to Vonn Bell, that would be all the excitement for them as junior Wesley Sullivan tackled Bridges for negative five yards on the ensuing play. This forced the Panthers to go for it on fourth down where Sullivan again tackled Bridges turning the ball over to the Sandy Creek offense. Later, on another drive, Ridgeland again tried the half-back pass but senior safety Corey Griffin batted in down essentially ruining the play that defeated Marist last week.
The Panthers went three and out on four of their first five drives, once due to a fumble forced by senior linebacker Jaylon Harvey that senior lineman Spencer Roberts recovered. In total, the Patriot defense were only on the field for about a third of the first half despite several quick offensive drives for the Patriots as they held Bridges and the Panthers to under 100 yards.
The scoring pace slowed down in the third quarter. Garvin found Kyle Wilson for a 37 yard touchdown reception halfway through the quarter but Ridgleland went on a long drive capped by a 29 yard field goal. It was 38-3 heading into the fourth quarter with a lot of Sandy Creek players making their first touches of the game. Trey Walker came in to quarterback in the fourth quarter and threw a 21 yard touchdown pass to Justin Sumpter to make it 45-3.
Sumpter had some big catches and saved his best game of the season for the biggest stage.
“I just saw some really good passes,” he said after the game.
Ridgeland did convert one of their famous halfback passes to cut the lead to 45-10 but by that point it was all over but the shouting.
“The defense is what made this championship,” said head coach Chip Walker after the game. “Our guys can really run and they are physical.”
As the second half got under way, Ridgeland had a little bit of spark in them as they drove 73 yards down to the Patriot 13. But Lane rallied the defense with two stops as they forced the Panthers to kick a 20-yard field goal. On their next drive against the Patriot’s second string, Bridges hit Bell on a 40-yard touchdown pass, but it was too little too late as the clock would wind down in Patriot hands.
Defensive Coach Garvin said, “I thought the [defense] played exceptionally well … We put in some young kids in so they could get used to this setting, so as not to be as big of a shock when they play here next year.” A repeat state championship Garvin predicts? With returning starters like Lain, Sullivan, and Chris Williams, anything is possible.
Linebacker Khari Lane and safety Corey Griffin led this strong defense with seven tackles each. Wesley Sullivan also had seven tackles finishing just shy of 100 on the season. On the line junior Chris Williams led with four tackles and senior Zack Lane joined him with two.
On breaking the 100 tackle mark, Lain said, “It felt pretty good, just knowing I could help my team do their best.” Griffin also said about the game, “It feels pretty good, especially with the win. We had our ups and downs this season, but we fought through adversity. I love [my team]. I wouldn’t trade these boys for nothing.”
The goal for the Patriots, according to Walker, was to get on the scoreboard early and take Ridgeland out of their game plan.
“They are a team that can grind it out and really control the clock, scoring early was big for us,” Walker said, lauding praise on his skill players and the offensive line. “We lost four starters to graduation and really challenged those guys. It all starts on the line.”
The seniors on Sandy Creek’s squad went 56-2 and captured three state titles.
“They have taken this program to new heights. A standard has been set. It’s unbelievable,” Walker said, before adding that the team will get back to work in January and will have to work and develop an identity and not lose focus to make sure they are back here next year.
Sandy Creek senior Jacob Renie assisted with this story.