| By Myra Bean
The South Panola Tigers dominated Meridian in the 5A state championship handing the Wildcats a 52-14 sound whipping Friday night.
"The No. 1 running back in the state is sitting on our bench," said Tiger Kevin Young, referring to senior running back Germichael Sanford.
Meridian running back Cordero Eason had been considered the best running back in the state until Friday night.
South Panola also joined the ranks of only three other teams since state championships have been played in Mississippi.
They pulled off a "3-peat" and thus preserved a 45-game win streak with the win over Meridian in the MHSAA 5A State Championship game Friday night at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
The USA Today No. 7 nationally ranked Tigers rushed for 406 yards against Meridian who is coached by former South Panola coach Ed Stanley.
Only three other teams have pulled off "3-peats": Bassfield in 2A in 1984, 1985 and 1986; West Point in 4A in 1987 and 1988 and 5A in 1989; and Stringer in 1A in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
In other state championship games, West Point defeated Wayne County 17-15 in the 4A game; Charleston lost in the 3A championship to Hazelhurst 14-0; Lumberton shut out Hollandale-Simmons 28-0 in 2A Friday afternoon; and Ray Brooks defeated Mt. Olive 52-33 Saturday night. The north brought home three trophies this year and the south took two.
The Tiger offense was led by junior quarterback Leroy Diggs and senior running back Ricky Sanford who were chosen players of the game by FOX 35 television station.
Diggs scored four touchdowns, rushing for 152 yards on 19 carries.
Sanford scored three touchdowns with 203 yards on 12 carries.
Junior fullback Jeramie Griffin scored one touchdown with 30 yards on six carries.
The Tiger team had its way with the Wildcats both on offense and defense.
The Tigers led 26-0 at halftime and came back and scored 26 more points in the second half.
On defense the Tigers caused three fumbles, two by junior defensive end Marlon Wilks and one by senior linebacker Kevin Young.
Fumbles were recovered by senior defensive end Justin Harris, senior defensive lineman Demario Lewis and junior linebacker Chris Strong.
Kareem Carr pulled down his third interception of the season. Getting credit for pass deflections were senior free safety Kerry Hoskins, three; sophomore linebacker Darius "Tigg" Barksdale and Carr, one each.
Registering quarterback sacks were Young, two, and Harris, one.
The Tigers got the opening kickoff and had to punt the possession away.
Meridian got the ball and on third down and six from the 12, Wilks knocked the ball from the Meridian runner and Harris immediately jumped on it to secure it for the Tiger offense on the Wildcat 20 yard line.
It took just one play for Diggs to take the ball 20 yards for his first touchdown of the night with 7:13 left in the first quarter.
Diggs cut to the left, shook off some defenders and sprinted for the score.
Senior kicker Barrett Johnson was four of six for the night and gave the Tigers a 7-0 first quarter lead.
Though it was cold elsewhere, on the field the Tigers were heating things up for Meridian in the second quarter.
Well, almost. The Tigers threw an interception on the first play of the second quarter.
Meridian fumbled its snap and fell on the ball on their own 23 yard line where the Tigers took over.
On third down and goal from the one, Diggs scored his second touchdown of the evening with 9:26 left in the first half.
Wilks caused his second fumble on Meridian’s second play and Strong recovered it on the Meridian 18 yard line with 8:07 left in the second quarter.
On second down and two from the 11, Diggs scored touchdown number three with 7:26 on the first half clock for a 20-0 lead.
In Meridian’s next possession, what looked like a Kevin Young interception was ruled an incomplete pass. Meridian ended up punting the possession away.
The Tigers started their possession on their own 34 yard line but a big run by Diggs moved the ball to the Meridian 35.
On second down and six from the 31, Sanford scored his first touchdown on a 31-yard run with 3:35 left in the first half. The score remained 26-0 after the attempted two-point conversion failed.
Meridian received the opening kickoff of the third quarter and started in on its air game again.
The Tiger secondary was ready as Carr picked off the ball at the 50 yard line and returned it to the Meridian 28 with 11:33 on the third quarter clock.
Two plays later, it was Diggs again as he stepped on two tacklers en route to his 24-yard touchdown with 10:48 left in the third. The scored stood 32-0 after the PAT failed.
Meridian turned its next possession over on downs after attempting to convert a fourth down and 11 with an end zone pass that Hoskins broke up.
The Tigers were in true form on their next possession as Sanford broke to his right and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown with 7:31 left in the third quarter. Again the two point conversion failed and the Tigers led 38-0.
Meridian finally put together a successful drive and scored on a one-yard touchdown with 2:43 left in the third quarter. The PAT was good to cut the Tiger lead 38-7 and the Tiger crowd joined in the cheering for the score.
The Tigers still did not let up as the third quarter wound down. With some stellar blocking from offensive linemen Cameron Wagner, Josh Boren, South Oakes, Garret Stone, Hunter Bailey and tightend Quin Sanford, Sanford broke to his right again and scored on a 70-yard run.
Close to the 20 yard line, Meridian defenders were closing in on him and the Tiger help was a couple of seconds behind so Sanford got his own block in to clear the way to the end zone.
With Johnson’s PAT, the Tigers led 45-7 at the end of the third quarter.
Meridian had the ball on the Tiger nine yard line going into the fourth quarter.
On second down and goal from the nine, Wilks caused his second fumble and Lewis recovered it on the 20 with 11:02 left in the game.
The Tigers scored their last touchdown of the evening on an eight-yard run by Griffin with 9:37 left in the game. With the PAT, the Tigers led 52-7.
The two teams punted back and forth a couple of times before Meridian scored again on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 3:43 left in the game. With the PAT they cut the Tiger lead 52-14.
The Tiger crowd did not cheer this time.
Also carrying the ball for the Tigers was Justin Market with 15 yards on seven carries. He has 382 yards for the year rushing, 29 receiving and three touchdowns.
Sophomore backup quarterback Mario Nash carried the ball two times for no yards. On the year, Nash has 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, Barksdale led with 10 total tackles, followed by Hoskins, Rodney Diggs and Wilks with six each. Strong and Harris had five tackles each.
Strong is the leading tackler for the year with 81 total tackles.