By Kedrick Storey
RIPLEY – When the weather is messy and rainy, it’s always good to have a ball-securing ground attack.
Friday, the Ripley Tigers put a potent passing attack on the shelf and turned to its ground game, rushing for 251 yards and winning the turnover battle to edge the Calhoun City Wildcats 22-19 in a battle of perennial playoff teams.
Ripley’s Christian Johnson led all rushers with 174 yards on 24 carries. His 8-yard touchdown run with 5:16 to play in the fourth quarter put the Ripley ahead 22-12.
“The weather took away a lot of our guys tonight,” said Ripley coach Chad Cook, who as facing his high school alma mater for the first time. “We work on ball-securing drills, and I was proud of the way we held on to the ball. We had to run the ball and grind and against a good athletic team.
“That’s why I scheduled them. Forget about them being in Class 2A. Coach (Perry) Liles does a great job with them.”
Calhoun City edged Ripley in total yards, 307-302, but they turned the ball over six times. Ripley’s Stephon Foote intercepted a Chakel Gates pass in the second quarter and returned it 50 yards for a score and a 14-6 lead. The Wildcats turned it over on four consecutive possessions to start the second half.
Despite the turnovers, the Wildcats managed to pull within a score late when Gates found Lavarious Varnado for a 30-yard score with 2:46 remaining. Calhoun City’s Liles, who guided his squad to wins over two Class 4A teams this season, thought it was great game in spite of the conditions. He said turnovers were the difference.
Gates finished nine of 16 for 158 yards and two TD.
“I’m proud of my guys for being physical with a good Ripley team and making a game of it,” said Liles. “The defense did a good job, and if we would have just held onto the ball, we would have had a chance to win it.”
Ripley got on the board with a 1-yard run by Dalton James on their first drive of the game. James completed just five passes for 51 yards.