| By Myra Bean
A season’s best performance by senior running back Rickey Sanford helped lead the South Panola Tigers to their 43rd consecutive win dating back to the 2002 season.
Sanford rushed for 239 yards on eight carries and scored four touchdowns in the second quarter as the Tigers (13-0) defeated the Columbus Falcons (6-7) 62-14 for the second time this season in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Sanford scored on touchdown runs of 10, 18, 98 and 92 yards, respectively.
Over 1,000 South Panola fans took the two-hour drive, braved the near freezing temperatures and added to the approximate 5,000 people on hand to watch the Tigers perform.
Though Columbus did make a good showing the first time against South Panola this season October 14, none of that was noticeable as the Tigers put up 677 total yards, including 589 rushing yards.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Tigers advanced to the North State round in route to defending their two-time state championship title.
South Panola and Olive Branch, for the second time this season also, will meet at Tiger Stadium Friday to determine which north team will head to the state 5A championship December 9 in Jackson.
Olive Branch defeated Madison Central 22-10 Friday night to advance to the North Half game.
"This will be the toughest game we will play this season," Tiger head coach Ricky Woods said.
In South 5A competition, Meridian (10-3) defeated George County (8-4). Meridian is coached by former South Panola coach Ed Stanley.
In the other south game, two former state championship runner ups competed. Last year’s runner up Ocean Springs (8-4) fell to 2003 runner up Oak Grove 28-16. Meridian will host the contest against Oak Grove (12-0).
On defense senior defensive back/ quarterback Karreem "Moody/ Mood Dawg" Carr was showcased on both sides of the ball with one interception which led to his one yard touchdown, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups, which could have turned into Columbus touchdowns.
Also scoring for South Panola were junior quarterback Leroy Diggs on a 38-yard touchdown run, Rodney Gray on an 18-yard pass from Diggs, sophomore tailback Darius "Tigg" Barksdale on a 71-yard run and Justin Market on a two-yard run.
Perfect on the night was Barrett Johnson who kicked eight of eight PATs (point after touchdowns).
Also pulling down an interception was Barksdale who got the ball on the Tiger two yard line which set up Sanford’s 98-yard touchdown.
Diggs got the Tigers on the scoreboard first with a 38-yard touchdown run with 7:37 on the first quarter clock. The run capped a 10-play 77-yard drive.
Columbus showed a little defense in that first possession but it was short-lived as the rest of the game proved.
Columbus’ took the field with a no huddle offense which ended in a punt.
On the Tigers’ next possession, a Columbus defender stripped the ball from Diggs’ hand for a turnover on the Tiger 35 yard line.
Then Columbus fumbled on first down and 10 and Tiger Rodney Diggs recovered it on the 33 yard line with 3:15 left in the first quarter.
The Tiger possession carried over into the second quarter with a 7-0 lead and began the Sanford era.
On second down and four from the 10, Sanford scrambled for his first touchdown with 10:45 left in the half. The drive covered 67 yards in nine plays and took 4:30 minutes off the clock.
Columbus fumbled away its next possession and senior defensive back Kerry Hoskins recovered it for the Tigers on their own 39 yard line.
Sanford capped the four play 61-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. He went right up the middle with the defenders reaching for him but the offensive line created a hole and Sanford scored unmolested.
Barksdale intercepted Columbus on the next possession on the two-yard line. On first down and 10, Sanford stepped back into the endzone, took the handoff from Diggs, took to the left, cocked his head and sprinted untouched for 98 yards, leaving all defenders in the 40 degree dust.
Columbus turned its next possession over on downs after Carr broke up a pass in the endzone on fourth down and three from the eight.
With 1:49 left in the first half on first down and 10 from the eight, Sanford mimiced his previous run, just six yards closer to the endzone, as he sprinted up the left for a 92 yard run.
The Tigers were not finished with the first half. Columbus fumbled the kickoff and Carr recovered it for the Tigers on the Columbus 31 yard line.
Diggs capped the fumble recovery with an 18-yard pass to senior receiver Gray with 1:18 left in the first half.
With Johnson’s PATs, the Tigers led 42-0 at halftime.
The Tigers started the second half still on a roll as Carr pulled down an interception with 11:48 on the third quarter clock. The Tigers started the drive on Columbus’ 11-yard line and Carr, in for an injured Diggs, capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown with 10:04 on the clock.
Columbus finally got on the clock in the third quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass at the 7:02 mark. The Falcons completed four of six passes in that drive for the score with the PAT.
After the kickoff the Tigers got the ball on the 29 yard line. Barksdale broke to his left and toed the sideline 71-yards for a touchdown. He did have to dance away from a Falcon defender near the goal line for the score with 6:42 left in the third. The Tigers led 56-7.
On Columbus’ next possession junior defensive end Marlon Wilks recorded the Tigers’ only sack of the game.
Columbus was forced to punt the ball away but got it back when the ball hit Carr on the helmet. The Falcons recovered it on the Tiger 35 yard line.
The Falcons turned that recovery into a seven yard touchdown run with 2:06. With the PAT, the Tigers led 56-14.
The Tiger backups took over in the fourth quarter and sophomore tailback Justin Market scored on a two-yard run with 6:49 left in the game, making this the highest scoring game the Tigers have played this season.
Tiger head coach Ricky Woods refused to give the go ahead to put more points on the board so the Tigers did not even attempt the PAT or a two-point conversion.
Columbus’ colorful public address announcer called it a class act as backup quarterback Mario Nash took a knee on the extra point and took a knee when the Tigers drove down to the 11 yard line for the last two plays of the game.
The Tigers will play Olive Branch at 7 p.m. on Tiger Field.
Playoff tickets are $7 and will go on sale Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the high school. Also, the tickets will be on sale at the ticket booth beginning at 5 p.m.
In other playoff action, in 4A north West Point (12-1) defeated Clarksdale 14-7 and Oxford (13-0) defeated West Lauderdale 37-12 to set up the north half game in West Point.
In south 4A West Jones (10-1) defeated Terry 27-7 and Wayne County (13-0) downed Mendenhall 48-8. Those two winners will play at Wayne County (13-0).
Senatobia defeated Cleveland East Side 26-12 in 3A north and Charleston (12-1) defeated Amory 43-7 to set up the game of the week in Charleston Friday night. In 3A south competition, South Pike (13-0) defeated Morton 27-20 and Hazlehurst (10-0) defeated Greene County 34-0. That game will be played in Hazlehurst in a battle of the undefeated.
In 2A north, West Bolivar (11-2) defeated previously undefeated Baldwyn 35-14 and Hollandale Simmons (12-0) defeated previously undefeated Calhoun City 34-20.
The game will be played at West Bolivar.
The North 2A game will be played between Perry Central (10-2) and Lumberton (12-0). Perry Central defeated Philadelphia 20-14 and Lumberton downed Mize 33-12.
In 1A north action, Coffeeville (10-2) defeated Durant 43-16 and Benoit Brooks defeated Weir 34-13. That game will be at Benoit Brooks.
In the south, St. John (10-1) upset previously undefeated Puckett 37-25, and Mount Olive (13-0) defeated Lake 41-9 to play at St. John Friday.