| By Myra Bean
Since 1993, in all but 2001, the road to the 5A state championship has gone through South Panola.
South Panola silenced more critics and secured a fourth straight trip to the 5A state championship game with a 26-0 shutout of Olive Branch Friday night.
Before an estimated 10,000 fans in low 40 degree weather, the Tigers performed their second shutout of the season.
This was one game the Tigers played where younger players did not get to substitute.
The score was not indicative of the intensity in which these two teams met each other on the gridiron.
The talk that had marked the season for these two teams rekindled last week when it was confirmed they would meet again for the chance to play for the state’s top honors.
Tiger quarterback junior Leroy Diggs led the Tigers with 192 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
Senior defensive back Kerry Hoskins pulled down his sixth interception of the season.
Both teams earned every yard with defenses holding the other team’s offense scoreless during the first quarter.
The Tigers had few mistakes in their first possession. Diggs was sacked a couple of times and slipped once. Senior tailback Rickey Sanford was tackled for a loss once and the Tigers punted with 4:51 left in the first quarter.
Olive Branch faced the Tiger defense which lived up to its name of "stingy defense."
The Quistors started on their own 20 and got to the Tiger 45 before punting, thanks to the defense of Justin Harris, Marlon Wilks, Kevin Young, Chris Strong and Rodney Diggs.
The Tigers got the ball with 58 seconds left in the first quarter and carried it to the second quarter where Leroy Diggs connected with senior wide receiver Rodney Gray on the first pass attempt of the evening.
Gray got two steps on the Olive Branch defender, caught the pass and outran the opposition for a 68-yard touchdown never breaking stride leaving 10:59 in the first half.
Barrett Johnson’s PAT (point after touchdown) was good for the 7-0 lead.
After that touchdown, the game continued much as the first quarter with the teams punting or turning the ball over on downs.
The second half was a barn burner as the South Panola came out more intense and more determined than ever.
So did the Quistors.
Olive Branch took the opening kickoff and using its run game got past the Tiger defense deep into Tiger territory. The Quistors converted a fourth down and one and a third down and one to keep the drive alive.
They drove to the Tiger 20 yard line on first down and 10 and got to the 17 for second down. The Tigers called a timeout with 7:05 left in the quarter.
On second down and seven from the 17, Olive Branch fumbled the ball and Kerry Hoskins recovered it on the 13 with 6:59 to go in the third quarter.
Fans on both sides had gotten into the game by this time, cheering for their respective teams. Chants of "defense" from South Panola were heard while the Olive Branch fans screamed and yelled for their Quistors to keep pushing forward.
But with that one mistake after they had controlled the ball for five minutes, the Quistor crowd was quieted and the Tiger crowd erupted.
Tiger fans stayed awake after that and began to chant for a shut out as Diggs cashed-in that turnover for a 36-yard touchdown run with 2:38 left in the quarter.
Diggs broke to the left side and outran the defense giving the Tigers a 13-0 lead which lasted into the fourth quarter.
In the middle of the fourth quarter when tempers started to fly, Diggs scored his second touchdown of the evening on a two-yard run with 4:35 left in the game. Diggs tried to go up the middle but it was congested with Tigers and Quistor linemen. He bounced from the pile, went around the right side and walked into the endzone.
Later the Tigers were on the 37 but fumbled with Griffin recovering. A Quistors got an after play hit in. The unsportsmanlike penalty landed the Tigers on the 19 yard line. The Tigers led 19-0 after the PAT failed.
On the Quistors’ next possession, Hoskins pulled down an interception with 3:52 left in the game. The Tigers got the ball on the Quistor 15 yard line. Another Quistor unsportsmanlike penalty gave the Tigers the ball on the seven yard line.
On second down and two from the seven, Rickey Sanford scampered in from seven yards out. With Johnson’s PAT, the Tigers shutout Olive Branch 26-0.
Other rushers for the Tigers include Griffin, 20 yards on six carries; and Sanford 63 yards on 16 carries.
Gray caught one pass for 58 yards and a touchdown.
The Tigers had a total of 329 yards including 271 rushing. Olive Branch had a total of 177 yards with 120 rushing. The time of possession was close with the Tigers having the ball 25:23 and Olive Branch 22:37.
Olive Branch was penalized seven times for 57 yards and South Panola six times for 45 yards.