River Ridge kept its magical season alive last week and now will take aim at the No. 1 team in the state.
Lee County (10-1) will travel to River Ridge (11-0) on Friday for a Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal matchup. River Ridge is coming off a 42-10 win over Rome, while Lee County beat Brunswick 48-21.
The Knights continue to chart new territory, while Lee County is in the state quarterfinals for the fourth-straight season. The Trojans won back-to-back state titles in 2017 and ’18 are 50-5 with four region titles over the last four years.
River Ridge’s defeat of Rome last week the Knights’ largest margin of victory this season and Rome’s largest defeat. River Ridge outgained Rome 410-171 as the Knights’ county-leading offense (34 points per game) displayed all its pieces.
“I felt like that was the game we’ve been looking for,” River Ridge coach Mike Collins said. “Every round you advance, the game will get a little faster, but we’ve had a really good week of practice so far. Our guys are just excited to still be out here playing.”
Amehre Morrison finished with 172 total yards (115 rushing, 56 receiving) and three touchdowns, and is now 168 yards short of eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards on the season. Carson Lathem has completed 63% of his passes this season, while the combination of Jackson Head and Riley Caines continue to perform as reliable targets and playmakers in the passing game.
Andrew Bingham, who finished with 75 total yards and two touchdowns against Rome, continues to show versatility as both a runner and receiver.
“I think it starts with Tyler Jones, our offensive coordinator, and our offensive staff,” Collins said. “They’ve done a great job of drawing up plays to get a lot of guys touches. The offensive line is probably the glue, but the icing on the cake is probably Carson Lathem. He’s so cerebral with taking what the defenses give him and getting the ball out to different guys.”
River Ridge held Rome’s rushing attack under 100 yards will face another formidable ground game this week.
Lee County is led by a trio of seniors in the backfield — running backs Caleb McDowell (South Carolina commit) and Preston Simmons, along with quarterback Chauncey Magwood (Kentucky commit). McDowell finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns against Brunswick, while Simmons tallied 83 yards with two scores.
The Trojans will run behind tackles Zach Cleveland and Qae’shon Sapp, who holds 11 offers, including Alabama, Auburn and Florida. Lee County also uses a three-star tight end Tyrus Washington, who holds offers from Mississippi, Boston College and Cincinnati.
Defensively, Lee County is equally as talented. Linebacker Jaron Willis holds more than 15 offers, including Florida, LSU and Auburn, while fellow junior Baron Hopson holds 13 offers, including Michigan, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
“Every team left is going to be good,” Collins said. “We happened to draw the team that people believe is the best team because they’re really strong in all three phases.”
Lee County’s only loss this season came in a 38-13 defeat at Lowndes in the last week of September. Friday will be only the fourth away game of the season for the Trojans, whose road wins against Tift County and Northside Warner-Robins were each one-score margins.
A win this week would make River Ridge only the second Cherokee County team to advance to the state semifinals, following Etowah in 2014.
A number of seniors on River Ridge’s roster have been starting since their sophomore season, when the Knights finished 1-9. The bumps and bruises earned during the past few seasons seem to have finally paid dividends for this battle-tested group.
“They got thrown in the fire so early, even before I was here,” Collins said. “They were on the field in a tough league with Dalton, Harrison, Allatoona, along with the other schools we still play. All those schools really pride themselves on that tough, physical style of football, so I think this group had to grow up fast. That’s how they were established.
“They’re also really close. It’s really a situation where you play for the guy beside you because you don’t want to let your brother down. This is going to be a very challenging game this Friday, but we’re going to rely on what has got us here and keep the focus on us.”