By Scott Herpst
Walker County Messenger
The name Caderius Word may not have been known by many Ridgeland High School football fans before this season.
They know who he is now, though, and so do the Southeast Whitfield Raiders.
Getting the starting nod due to a rash of injuries in the Panthers’ backfield, the sophomore running back plowed his way to a career performance in Ridgeland’s 35-20 victory on Friday night at Bowers and Painter Field.
Word enjoyed career highs in carries (28), yards (161) and touchdowns (three) as he chewed up yardage, clock and the Southeast defense to help lift his team to a much-needed win. Ridgeland (2-4, 1-1 Sub-region 7B-4A) snapped a three-game losing streak, while Southeast (3-3, 1-1) fell out of its share of the sub-region lead.
“I just tried to take advantage of my chances,” Word said. “I’ve been going hard in practice every day. All credit goes to my offensive line, though. Thank God for my blockers.”
Junior speedster Calvin Davenport appeared to re-injure an ankle late in the third quarter and did not return, but he added 116 yards on 10 carries before then, including a 60-yard, second-quarter touchdown jaunt that gave the Panthers the lead for good.
Noah Cooper and George Johnson combined for 62 yards on 10 carries as Ridgeland racked up 339 yards on the ground.
“It’s amazing what a little experience will do,” Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. “There were some nice holes out there, and it looked like for the first time all season our backs were out in front throwing blocks, too.”
Ridgeland took a 28-7 lead on Cooper’s 8-yard touchdown run with 9:21 to play, but Southeast made things interesting over the next six minutes.
Raiders quarterback Will Swantic scrambled before finding Colter Faith on a 43-yard touchdown strike, and after a Ridgeland punt, Swantic marched his team on another scoring drive. However, it was senior quarterback Rhett Harper who hit Faith on a 3-yard touchdown pass after Swantic had to leave the game following a big hit inside the 5.
Down 28-20 following a blocked extra point by Ridgeland’s Ian Hayes, Southeast’s onside kick attempt with 3:24 failed and the Panthers put the game away with a six-play, 33-yard drive. Word scored on a 1-yard run with 52 seconds remaining.
“It’s just disappointing,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “We rallied the troops there (in the fourth quarter), but we just had a hard time stopping them tonight. Every time we got a little momentum, something would go wrong.
“Ridgeland has great athletes. They are starting to put it together and I was afraid it was going to happen tonight and it did.”