However, one of Adairsville’s most productive options against the Panther defense ultimately was when neither Johnson or Childers took the carry, but when Childers pitched to the slotback.
“Those slot guys all played last year and got playing time there, so we feel good about that,” head coach Eric Bishop said prior to the game. “Hopefully, they’ll put some pressure on the defense by stretching the field, both vertically and the width of the field.”
The slotbacks indeed stretched the width of the field in the second half. Running just eight plays in the first half, Childers, and his open field elusiveness, was limited. The second half saw Childers reach the edge of the Ridgeland defense far more frequently and allowed the trio of slotbacks — Jayson Cantrell, Clay Duncan and Torrey Hale — to achieve big gains when pitched the ball.
The first pitch came six minutes into the second half when Childers made the correct read and pitched to Cantrell, who made an impressive 36-yard run, breaking several tackles and carrying three Panthers on his back near the Tigers’ sideline.
After a 13-yard first-down run by Johnson, Hale received the pitch on the third play of the drive and ran the remaining 11 yards for the touchdown.
The drive went 60 yards on just three plays in a little over a minute of game clock. The touchdown put Adairsville up 14-6.
Adairsville would then score a touchdown three possessions later in the same fashion. After a 15-yard run by Johnson to begin the possession, Childers pitched to Cantrell on a first-and-10 from the 15-yard line. Cantrell ran in for the score to give the Tigers a 28-14 lead with 6:41 remaining, which would ultimately be the end result.
SECOND-LEVEL STRENGTH: Senior safety DeAndre Applin was the leading tackler in the game with 16, but the next five leading tacklers for Adairsville were all linebackers, a unit Bishop considered a strong point of his team entering Friday’s game.
“I tell you, our linebackers are [a strength] and we have some young guys really stepping up,” Bishop said during the preseason. “They all have really done a great job. Cody Hightower, Daelen Harrison, Dallas Cannon, they’ve probably made the most improvement in the offseason of any unit on defense.”
Adairsville’s linebackers combined to make 35 tackles on the day. Harrison led the way with 10, including eight in the first half. Fellow middle linebacker Clay Duncan added seven in the first half and eight in the game. Three of Duncan’s tackles were for losses, including a sack in the second half.
Both outside linebackers, Hightower and Chris Blackston, each added six tackles. Three of Blackston’s tackles were for losses as he was instrumental in stopping Ridgeland runners from getting to the outside.
Cannon also added five tackles, four of which came near the line of scrimmage and two for losses.
RUNNING BACK PASS: In addition to being the leading rusher for Ridgeland a season ago, running back Caderius Word also threw for two touchdown passes.
Three times on Friday, Word was given the ball on what looked to be a sweep before throwing the ball deep downfield on a trick play.
The first time was on a second-and-11 with roughly one minute remaining in the first half. Word overthrew his intended receiver and Adairsville would force a three-and-out on the drive.
The second time Word threw the ball, he caught Adairsville off guard but the receiver dropped the ball with nothing but open field in front of him in what could have resulted in the game-tying score in the fourth quarter.
Ridgeland would try the play one more time, trailing by two touchdowns with a little under 4:30 remaining in the game. This time, Word’s pass was off the mark and Applin ran under it for an interception.
PENALTIES: Penalties are often more frequent early in the season and that was the case Friday night.
Adairsville had eight penalties in the second half for 75 yards. Ridgeland had five penalties for 45 yards in the game, while Adairsville had 11 in the game for 95 yards, including four illegal motion penalties.
More repetitions should clean the game up moving forward for the Tigers.