Game: Kennesaw Mountain (4-5, 4-3) at River Ridge (9-0, 6-0)
Last meeting: First meeting
All-time series: First meeting
Prediction: River Ridge 35, Kennesaw Mountain 17
Two programs in the midst of their best seasons will square off this weekend when Kennesaw Mountain (4-5, 4-3) travels to River Ridge (9-0, 6-0) for the first round of the AAAAAA playoffs.
River Ridge will be hosting its second home playoff game after clinching its first region championship on Saturday with a 29-21 win over Cambridge. The undefeated Knights continue to accomplish program firsts but coach Mike Collins said after the celebration it was back to business on Monday morning.
“It’s a great feeling to watch your guys celebrate and achieve a goal they set for themselves,” River Ridge coach Mike Collins said. “But we’re taking the same approach this week that we’ve taken all year.”
After beginning the season 0-4, Kennesaw Mountain has rallied to make the first state playoff appearance in its two decades of existence. The Mustangs have won four of their last five games and outscored their opponents 208-77 during that stretch. The playoff run comes one year after finishing 0-10 and back-to-back winless seasons within the region. Third-year coach Caleb Carmean said a motto established back in January proved useful as the season played itself out.
“We’ve been preaching that we were going be different this year,” Carmean said. “It’s worked because this has really been a different year, 2020 is the year of adversity, especially for us as a football team, and we’ve handled it really well this year.”
River Ridge possessed the most potent offense in Region 7AAAAAA, averaging 33 points per game. The Knights’ running back Amehre Morrison leads Class AAAAAA with 1,549 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. The running game has been supplemented by an efficient passing attack led by quarterback Carson Lathem, who’s completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards with 14 touchdowns.
The receiving corps is balanced with Jackson Head, Riley Caines, Andrew Bingham and Micah Martineau.
“There’s a reason why they’re undefeated,” Carmean said. “With (River Ridge), you have to be prepared for everything.”
Kennesaw Mountain has relied on a trio of sophomores offensively in quarterback Cayman Prangley, running back T.J. Jenkins and receiver Jailen Taylor. Jenkins is coming off a 358-yard, five-touchdown performance against Osborne and has run for 1,173 and 13 touchdowns this season.
Taylor leads the Mustangs with 21 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns while Prangley is a dual-threat who has accounted for 13 total touchdowns. The Mustangs center Connor Lew holds college offers from Georgia Tech and Virginia.
The River Ridge defense continues to play well. Defensive back Scotty Rutherford leads the Knights with 106 tackles, finishing with 23 on Saturday. Rutherford also connected on three field goals and is 9-for-11 on the season. Kennesaw Mountain’s defense is led by safety Jaylen Hill (72 tackles, one interception) and senior linebacker Hudson Freise (62 tackles and one interception).
Both coaches said they talked with their players about being grateful to be practicing on Thanksgiving week, especially in a season fraught with uncertainty.
“We did talk about that at today’s practice and it’s ok to appreciate that for a moment,” Collins said. “We’re not taking that stuff for granted.”