ACWORTH — It didn’t take long for Allatoona to crown itself a champion.
The fourth-year program got a boost from its ground game, and stellar play from its defense, to claim its first Region 7AAA championship with a 28-7 victory over Ridgeland on Friday.
Miles Jones rushed 27 times for 200 yards and two touchdowns for the Buccaneers (10-0), who also completed their first undefeated regular season — which included an earlier win over Ridgeland by the exact same score.
Allatoona will enter the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and will host Franklin County, the No. 4 seed from Region 8AAA, next week.
“This is a great feeling,” said Jones, who helped the Buccaneers avenge their loss to Ridgeland in last year’s region championship. “We’ve come a long way. This is our fourth year. I remember the days when we were getting beaten 50-0, so now I feel good.
“We have a perfect season, and we’re 10-0. (The defense) stepped up big. They shut it down, got big stops when we needed to give us the ball back, and some good field position so we could do something with it. You have to give it to the offensive line, too. They opened the holes up for us, and we just ran through them.”
Neither squad was able to move the ball well on their first drives. Ridgeland (6-4), which was playing for its fourth straight region title, failed to convert a fake punt near midfield on its second possession after an open-field tackle from Mike Miller.
Allatoona converted the turnover into a seven-play, 48-yard scoring drive, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Jeremy Uzee to Clarence Soleberry, giving the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead with seconds remaining in the first period.
Evan Courtney missed a 22-yard field goal on the Panthers’ next possession, and an 18-yard punt on Ridgeland’s fourth drive gave Allatoona first-and-10 at the Panthers’ 36. One play later, Jones burst untouched through the middle of the defense for a 34-yard touchdown, putting the Buccaneers in front 14-0 with 2:17 left in the second quarter.
Ridgeland managed only two first downs in the first half before finally getting into a rhythm on its second drive of the third quarter
Trevor Long’s 22-yard run on third-and-7 gave the Panthers a first down, and a 15-yard penalty from Allatoona gave Ridgeland first-and-10 at the Buccaneers 15. Two plays later, Darrell Bridges rushed in for a touchdown from 11 yards out to trim the deficit to 14-7 with 1:59 remaining.
But Allatoona answered right back when Jones capped a five-play, 69-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to extend the Buccaneers’ advantage to 21-7 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Alex Ison intercepted Long on the Panthers’ next possession, which led to an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive for the Buccaneers. T.J. Herron’s 15-yard run extended Allatoona’s margin to 28-7 with 5:01 remaining in the game.
Ison intercepted Long again on Ridgeland’s next drive, and Allatoona downed the ball to end the game.
Uzee was 3-of-4 passing for 22 yards and a touchdown, while Herron rushed six times for 35 yards and a score.
“We battled,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “The defense was just lights out (Friday). That was the biggest thing of the game. (Ridgeland) had three guys that could take it to the house at any time, and we shut them down pretty well, so the defense won this game without a doubt. It was a great job by the staff and the team’s preparation and execution.
“It feels good (to be region champions). It feels good for the seniors. It feels good for the parents that built all of this in four years. There’s been an unbelievable support from the community, so it feels really good.”
Bridges rushed 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown to lead Ridgeland, which will host Monroe Area in its first-round game. Torrie Porter had seven carries for 18 yards, and Long rushed four times for 23 yards.
Long was 2-of-5 passing for 22 yards and had two interceptions. Bridges was also 2-for-5, totaling 28 yards