| By Myra Bean
The state of Mississippi is gearing up for what has been dubbed the game of the season tonight.
The No. 14 nationally ranked South Panola Tigers, No. 1 in the state, will host district foe and No. 2 state ranked Olive Branch.
Both teams enter the contest undefeated at 5-0 overall, 1-0 conference.
South Panola defeated Horn Lake 30-7 last week in the first conference game of the season, while Olive Branch downed Southaven 56-6.
Over 10,000 people are expected at the South Panola game Friday. Right down the road North Delta will be having its homecoming. North Panola played last night, so a large concentration of people will invade Batesville for this showdown.
The last time a crowd this big was expected at a game was the 1998 matchup between South Panola and Moss Point. Before the new additions were made to the South Panola stadium, over 10,000 people were packed to watch that clash of the Tigers.
Olive Branch had a good season last year (10-2) that ended in the first round of playoffs with a 17-14 defeat at the hands of Clinton.
The Conquistadors are on a run. So far the seasons of both teams mimic last year’s at this time.
Both teams were 5-0 coming into this game. Olive Branch’s defense was one of the best that South Panola was slated to meet.
The Conquistador defense was tough and held South Panola to its lowest score of the season at that time. The Tiger’s defense was even better and handed Olive Branch its only loss of the regular season 28-10.
Neither team has forgotten they will have to leave it all on the field tonight.
Though Olive Branch has been talking it up on the radio and to anyone who would listen, South Panola’s head football coach has had his hands full keeping his team focused on the game of the week.
"This is just a regular game to us," Woods said. "It is no surprise to us that they are really good. We have a routine and we follow it."
The only weakness Woods jokingly said he has noticed and can be exploited is that the waterboy was on crutches and a little slow getting the water to the team.
"Yes, this is a big game but we have been in big games before," Woods said. "It’s midseason and we are looking forward to playing them."
Since Woods came on board in 2002, South Panola has been in big games and lost only one: the 2002 state championship to Wayne County.
There has been no rematch between the two teams as Wayne County dropped the next year to 4A and has remained there.
Wayne County (5-0) is No. 1 in Class 4A in this week’s Associated Press Polls and No. 3 in The Clarion Ledger Super 10 poll.
Olive Branch has overwhelmingly demolished its first five opponents this year 317-18. The first four were non-conference opponents from Memphis, Memphis Kingsbury, Shelby Brado Street, Memphis Northside and Memphis Treadwell.
South Panola has faced Oak Grove and Ocean Springs in the last two state championships and had big fights on its hands with those two teams.
As Woods said in the preseason, Region 1-5A is probably one of the toughest regions in the state in which to play.
In the AP and The Clarion Ledger Super 10 Polls, South Panola is No. 1, Olive Branch is No. 2 and Starkville, No. 4.
In The Clarion Ledger poll in 5A, the three teams are one, two and three, respectively.
Tupelo dropped out of the Top 10 in the AP Polls after a 24-13 loss to Columbus Friday.
One other 1-5A game last week was Starkville defeated Grenada 24-17.
South Panola officials only made change in ticket sales procedures.
The ticket booth will open up as close to 5:30 p.m. as possible, according to South Panola High School principal Dr. Gearl Loden.
Reserve and general admission tickets will be available at the booth.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.