Southeast Whitfield’s Easton Ridley doesn’t get 20 to 25 carries per game in the Raiders’ spread offense, and he doesn’t play every snap on defense.
But in a four-minute span over the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth in Friday night’s 21-13 win over visiting LaFayette, Ridley was all the offense and defense the Raiders would need.
Ridley scored on an 18-yard run with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter to give the Raiders a 14-7 lead, stripped the ball from Ramblers running back Cody Dallas for a turnover and then scored on a 4-yard run to seal the team’s first victory in five tries this season, its first under coach Sean Gray.
“We just knew coming into this game that we had to put our hearts into it, and I am just so proud of our team for fighting and giving everything we had tonight,” Ridley said. “Last week, we figured out that if we put our head to it, we can play with the best in this region. We have it all together now, and it is just a mindset.”
The homecoming victory for the Raiders came a week after a loss to Cedartown in which the Raiders fell behind early before pulling back to within a touchdown in a 47-27 loss.
Now, the only thing that matters in Southeast’s record is its mark in Sub-region 7A-4A — 1-0.
And Ridley gets a lot of credit for that.
“He had a great game,” said first-year Southeast coach Sean Gray. “We have been waiting on him to bust out and have this kind of game. He is one of our senior captains, and he really played like it tonight.”
Ridley finished with just 52 yards on 10 carries, but he made the most of them, and the Southeast defense had its best game of the year and came up with its best stand after the Ramblers scored the tying touchdown.
LaFayette (0-5, 0-1) took advantage of a Blake Foster fumble at midfield, and on the next play Dallas raced 38 yards untouched for the score, tying the game at 7. Southeast’s offense was stuffed on its next possession, and the Ramblers were going to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead when the Raiders’ defense had its most important stand of the year.
The Ramblers took over at their own 17, but went backwards with a holding penalty. The Raiders stuffed Dallas on a pair of runs before quarterback McKenzie Kelehear was dropped for a 6-yard loss. Southeast had a short field after a 28-yard punt, and Ridley took a toss sweep out of the I-formation, found a seam to the sideline and then tiptoed the boundary before scoring on the 18-yard run. Abel Mendiola’s extra point put the Raiders up 14-7 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
LaFayette looked as if it would respond after a 9-yard run from Dallas on the next play of the drive, but two plays later, Dallas was stood up by Ridley, who stripped the ball away and came away with the fumble recovery to again give his team a short field.
His 4-yard run with 10:44 remaining pushed the lead to 21-7, and while LaFayette would drive for a score capped off by Kelehear’s 3-yard plunge in the final minutes, once the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, the Raiders were able to run out the clock.
“We have been saying all along that we have been so close,” Gray said. “We had just one let-up tonight (Dallas’ touchdown run), and then the defense made the plays when the game was on the line. When they tied it, we did not fold the tents.”
Southeast had taken an early lead by driving 90 yards in 10 plays on its opening possession.
Foster was perfect on his first five passes and had 21 yards rushing on three carries in the drive, capping it off with a 1-yard plunge on a sneak.
Foster finished with 174 yards of total offense, while the Southeast defense held LaFayette to 147 yards rushing and less than 100 yards passing.
Southeast Whitfield 21, LaFayette 13
Score by Quarters
LaFayette 0 0 7 6 — 13
Southeast 7 0 7 7 — 21
How They Scored
SOU — Blake Foster 1 run (Abel Mendiola kick), 1:21
LAF — Cody Dallas 38 run (Dillon Queen kick), 9:17
SOU — Easton Ridley 18 run (Mendiola kick), 2:30
SOU — Ridley 4 run (Mendiola kick), 10:44
LAF — McKenzie Kelehear 3 run (kick failed), 2:02