Adairsville matched Ridgeland touchdown for touchdown until deep into the fourth quarter of their Friday night high school football game and then turned matters over to sophomore kicker Dakota Hines, who notched a game-winner for the Region 7A-AA Tigers as they defeated the three-time 7A-AAA Region AAA champ Panthers, 17-14.
It was in stark contrast to just a year ago when the Tigers built a lead in their contest and then saw it evaporate late in the game.
Friday night's win also may have been the signature victory head coach Jim Kremer has been aiming his Tigers at since he took over the program.
Kremer, now in his third year as head Tiger coach, said while only time will tell how big a win it was, it certainly was one the team can be proud of.
"We just held our composure all night. That right there is great to see. Of course Ridgeland was a very formidable opponent," Kremer said. "We were doing some serious head-knockout out there, just trading punts half the night and had a few big plays. I'm proud of my kids winning a fourth-quarter game."
What was probably just as satisfying to the Adairsville faithful was how the Tigers roared back from early adversity and took control of the game with some suffocating defensive play.
That defensive play forced the Panthers to punt the ball six times on the evening, twice as many as Adairsville booted.
It didn't start out that way, however, for Adairsville.
The Tiger defense was flagged on the evening's first two plays, the offense's first pass was intercepted, and an early fumble led to a Ridgeland score and several passes were dropped.
But the Tigers quickly put those troubles in the rearview mirror as they battled Ridgeland on even terms until the game's final minute, when they hit a 25-yard field goal for the victory, then held on while a 49-yard prayer against the wind by the Panthers fell just short of the crossbars.
The Tigers started the evening slowly defensively, giving the Panthers their initial first down of the evening courtesy of officiating calls.
Then Adairsville changed its charitable approach and held the visitors to four yards on the next three plays, taking over on its own 47 after Ridgeland's initial punt of the evening.
Six plays took the Tigers to the Panther 22 and Ridgeland intercepted Cody Kremer's first pass to stop the drive. Ridgeland picked up a first down but ended up punting and the Tigers started their second drive from the 33. They advanced to the 48, where Jake Powell punted and Ridgeland took over at their 10. The Panthers picked up a first down but then fumbled, and Adairsville took over on its 26.
The two teams exchanged punts again and the Tigers took over on the Ridgeland 47. A play later Kremer fumbled and Ridgeland scooped up the ball at the 36 and ran 64 yards to give his team its only lead of the evening. The PAT was good and the visitors were up 7-0 with almost six and a half minutes remaining until half time.
The Tigers started from their 30 the next series and mixed a running game, led by Mike Upshaw, with an effective passing attack to move to the 36 of Ridgeland, where the drive appeared stalled facing a fourth-and-11. The Tigers lined up in a punt formation but gave the ball to Ben Bolander, who shocked Ridgeland by going 33 yards. Upshaw finished the journey for the Tigers and the game was even at 7-all after Hines hit the PAT.
Ridgeland opened the second half with an onside kick attempt, but a Panther wrapped up the ball before it went the necessary distance and Adairsville kept possession.
The team traded punts twice and the Tigers began an 11-play touchdown drive from their own 46 with about five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Among its highlights were Kremer and Upshaw matching one another with 6-yard runs for a first down and Kremer hitting Christian Howell for a 16-yard gain to the 26. Kremer ran the final three plays of the drive, scoring from the 1 with .49 seconds left in the quarter. After the PAT, the Tigers were up 14-7.
Ridgeland made its most impressive drive of the evening the next series, which started at its 31. It took the Panthers six plays to score, highlighted by a 16-yard run to move the chains and a 23-yard run for a touchdown. After the PAT was made, the score was tied at 14-all with 10:05 remaining in the game.
The Tigers' next scoring drive started at the Tigers' 39 with 2:05 remaining. Highlights were a pass from Kremer to Hiram Velez that netted 35 yards and Upshaw bulling his way to the eight. Two passes fell incomplete and Hines -- who'd missed an earlier field goal -- calmly tacked on the night's final score, his 25-yard field goal putting the Tigers up 17-14 with 54 seconds remaining.
Ridgeland moved the ball to Adairsville's 33-yard line over the next 52 seconds, then a 49-yard attempt fell just short as time expired.
Kremer said the Tiger defense played well on the evening.
"I think we gave up one drive all night ... right after we took the lead 14-7. Ridgeland mounted a drive after that."
He said the Tigers have some good defensive players and added those players were able to execute the team's game plan. "My defensive coach did an outstanding job preparing the kids."
He said while Adairsville's offense showed more spark in the second half, more improvements are needed.
"We have to just keep coming along," he said. "The thing is, when our running game goes, our passing game is going to go. We've got to fix our running game first and be more consistent. Once that happens, then our passing game is going to open up a lot more."
Kremer said the Tiger receivers dropped a few passes early but kept their heads up and did a good job overall on the night.
He also praised the play of kicker Hines. "He's worked real hard and he got us a game winner."
Adairsville visits Dade County next Friday.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
1 2 3 4 F
RID 0 7 0 7 14
ADA 0 7 7 3 17
RID -- 64-yd. run of fumble recovery (PAT good) 6:41
ADA -- Mike Upshaw, 3-yd. run (Dakotah Hines kick) 3:22
ADA -- Cody Kremer, 1-yd. run (Zach Coker kick) 0:49
RID -- 23-yd run (PAT good) 10:05
ADA -- 25-yd FG, Hines
First downs 7 19
Rushes-yds 32/130 49/203
Passing yds 31 129
Comp-att-int 4/9/1 13/24/1
Total yds 161 332
Penalties 3/20 10/75
Rushing -- Adairsville: Mike Upshaw 20/105, Ben Bolander 5/47, Kremer 13/48, Trey Gulledge 4/2, Dustin Knight 1/-1, Andrew Ward 2/-3, Tristin Smith 2/0, Austin Harris 1/2, Kyle Adams 1/3
Passing -- Ridgeland: Darrell Bridges 4-9-31-1; Adairsville: Kremer 13-24-129-1
Receiving -- Adairsville: Christian Howell 4-56, Hiram Velez 4-29, Tristin Smith 1-11, Trey Gulledge 2-29, Andrew Ward 1/4, Harrison Pajarito 1-0.