FLOWOOD — The Teddy Dyess era is off and running at Ridgeland.
Behind two big touchdown catches by star receiver Ayden Williams and a couple of big defensive stands by the Titan front seven, Ridgeland smothered Northwest Rankin 42-26 Friday night in the season opener.
“Great win for us,” Dyess said. “Got a lot of stuff to clean up, but you are supposed to improve from game one to game two more than at any other point in the season. But we came out and put up 42 points, so I was happy with that. We’ve got some stuff we need to fix this week, but I was proud and I thought our guys played with great effort tonight.”
In Williams’ case, he has a chance to be a really, really special player. His first touchdown came with 2:12 left in the first quarter on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone to put Ridgeland ahead 7-0.
Northwest Rankin responded by driving inside the Ridgeland 20-yard line, but had to settle for a 36-yard field goal off the foot of Christian Baglione.
After getting a defensive stop, the Cougars (0-1) took the 10-7 lead on their next possession when sophomore quarterback Wes White connected with tight end John Smith from 19 yards out for his first career touchdown pass.
It was almost all downhill from there for the Cougars.
Ridgeland (1-0) drove 68 yards in seven plays and cashed in on Kimani Payne’s four-yard touchdown run to take a 14-10 lead and never gave it back.
Titans linebacker Travis Posey stepped in front of a short pass on the Cougars’ next possession and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to give Ridgeland the 21-10 lead.
Northwest Rankin cut it to 21-13 on another Baglione field goal — this one from 38 yards out — just before the half.
On the Titans’ second possession of the third quarter, Ridgeland’s first-year starter at quarterback Tommy Dyess connected with Williams on a short slant, but the star wideout made one man miss and out-raced all the other defenders en route to a 53-yard touchdown.
“When Tommy came in he texted me the first day and asked me if I wanted to throw, so I knew he was ready to work hard,” Williams said. “Nobody can replace Zy (McDonald), but my boy Tommy is going to get the job done.”
Northwest Rankin cut it to 28-20 on White’s second touchdown pass — a beautiful long ball to Caleb McCoy for a 73-yard score with 8:34 to go in the fourth quarter — but it was too little, too late.
Ridgeland iced the game with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Dyess to Ja’Braxton Boone and a 12-yard scoring run from Payne.
Williams finished the night with four catches for 100 yards.
“I thought our receivers made some big plays in clutch times when we needed them,” Teddy Dyess said. “Ja’Braxton and Ayden Williams and Kimani Payne ran the ball like a man tonight. Those guys were huge and we were able to take away the run. They made some big plays in the passing game, but we still took away what they wanted to do.”
As big as it was for Dyess, the loss was just as rough for first-year Northwest Rankin coach Devin Cooper. The Cougars struggled to stop the potent Ridgeland offense, turned the ball over on downs twice and fumbled the ball away on a key possession in the fourth quarter when the game was still close.
“We just didn’t execute the way we wanted to tonight,” Cooper said. “And I told the guys that’s what you have to do in a game like this one. We didn’t do a good enough job of running the ball and that put a lot of pressure on (Wes White), who I thought played great in his first start as a sophomore. There’s lots here we can build on, but it was a frustrating night for sure.”