As Mitchell Bridges crossed the goal line for the last time Saturday, he took a bump from a Keller Fossil Ridge defender 4 yards into the end zone. The two exchanged brief words, but it was the Ryan quarterback who got the last jab.
“I said ‘scoreboard.’ It’s what they said all day to us, but at the end we came out on top,” Bridges said.
Ryan won 42-37, erasing a 31-point halftime deficit with 42 consecutive points to eliminate the Panthers (9-4) in a Class 5A Division II Region I semifinal at Apogee Stadium. It was the largest comeback in school history for the Raiders (10-2).
After what was a poor first half, Bridges shined with the game on the line.
Bridges scored two rushing touchdowns in the final 3:56 of the game to cap the comeback. He accounted for all six of Ryan’s scores (three passing, three rushing).
Trailing by four points with 5:18 left, Bridges engineered a five-play, 25-yard drive. He called his own number on a 2-yard plunge into the end zone for a 34-31 lead with 3:56 left. The entire Ryan offensive line came together and helped shove the 5-9 Bridges across the goal line.
“I told them [the linemen] that we had to have it [the score], and they pushed me from the front, the side, everything, to get me in,” Bridges said. “I knew we would get in. Coach [Joey] Florence trusts me with the ball, and I just knew we had to have it.”
After the Raiders’ defense forced a turnover on downs deep in Fossil Ridge territory, Bridges eked in from 1 yard out before adding a two-point conversion — again with his legs — for an 11-point lead with 24 seconds left.
Fossil Ridge added one more score as time expired for the five-point margin.
Florence said that Bridges’ performance was the catalyst for Ryan’s comeback, even after the team turned in one of its worst first-half performances of the season.
Bridges and the offense were abysmal in the first half as they were outgained 239-91.
Bridges completed just six of 11 passes for 27 yards and an interception in the first half. Fossil Ridge QB Jacob Gnacinski threw just two incomplete passes during the same stretch for 150 yards, three touchdowns and a 31-7 halftime lead.
Gnacinski’s 10-yard touchdown toss to Niron Fields with 2:53 left in the half was picture-perfect as Fields reached up over two Raider defenders for the score, awkwardly twisting to the turf to stay in bounds.
But while Fossil Ridge could do no wrong early, Ryan and Bridges made up for it in the second half.
“We couldn’t have played much worse than that but we’re never out of a game, and that’s a great testament to these kids and our program,” Florence said. “I’ve known that boy [Bridges] since he was little and he and I have been through a lot of these. I believe in him 100 percent and he’s a winner. He did what he had to do to win today.”
Ryan ended up outgaining Fossil Ridge 350-345.
Ryan’s first touchdown seemed insignificant at the time. The team had amassed 26 yards of offense before putting together a 12-play, 65-yard scoring drive with nine seconds left in the first half. Bridges capped the drive with a 1-yard run.
“I just knew we couldn’t get down; we had to keep our heads up,” Bridges said. “I knew coach would make adjustments, and they did. It wasn’t over at halftime; we got a couple of breaks and took over.”
Ryan cut the deficit to 16 points with 2:21 left in the third quarter when Bridges found Trent Willis for an 18-yard touchdown on third-and-15. Willis hauled in the ensuing two-point conversion. In the fourth quarter, Bridges cut the Fossil Ridge lead to four points with a 38-yard touchdown strike to Xavier Gray and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Willis.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here where we’ve been outplayed and outcoached so early in a game,” Florence said. “I knew it [scoring before the end of the first half] would be big if we could get it together, and we got it going.”