| By Myra Bean
The South Panola Tigers (12-0) took on a tough Provine Rams team and emerged with a 28-21 victory.
The Tigers, led by senior tailback/fullback Jeramie Griffin, played one of their toughest first playoff games ever against Provine Friday night.
Griffin led the Tigers with three touchdowns and 196 yards on 15 carries in what he said was one of the toughest first round teams they had played since he has been around.
That brings his total 1,125 yards, 146 carries and 16 touchdowns on the year.
It was an extremely physical matchup between the Tigers and the Rams that saw some injuries to key players Friday night.
Senior linebacker Kevin Young left the field favoring his right knee with 6:04 left in the first quarter. He returned for a couple of plays, but was not able to finish the game.
Sophomore defensive back David Conner also left the game favoring his right knee with 10:02 left in the first half.
According to assistant coach Trenell Edwards, neither player is expected to play Friday night due to "minor" knee injuries.
Injuries were not the only plague on South Panola Friday night. The Tigers lost three balls to fumbles and threw one interception.
Provine also returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown to take the lead 7-6 with the PAT with 10:11 left in the first half.
Jeramie Griffin said, "We had to dig a little deeper to pull out the victory. Provine showed they really wanted the game."
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and got on the board first. Griffin took the ball 39 yards up the middle after key blocks for the score. The extra point failed as the Tigers led 6-0 with 7:47 on the first quarter clock.
Provine punted its possession away, but on a Tiger fumble got the ball back on second down and three with 5:21 left in the first quarter. They started on the Tiger 36.
The Rams were trying to move the ball, but the Tiger defense held strong. Provine tried to convert a fourth down and two, but fumbled the ball and Demetrius Dunn recovered.
The Tigers again fumbled their next possession and Provine recovered on the Tiger 44 yard line with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
Provine tried to convert a fourth down and three on the Tiger 22, but the Tiger defense denied them as the Rams threw back-to-back incomplete passes and practically shut down the run.
On another Tiger mistake, Provine intercepted a Diggs pass to senior wide receiver Roderick Jefferson with 8:25 left in the first half. The defender got in front of Jefferson and snatched the ball out of the air.
Penalties hurt the Rams as they logged seven for 90 yards throughout the game and forced them to punt away possessions.
On the same pass play from Diggs to Jefferson, Jefferson got behind the defender and used his 6’5" height for advantage. Jefferson’s long arms also aided him as he grabbed the ball out of the air, did a little two-step to put some space between him and the Rams defender and ran 60 yards for a touchdown. With 1:13 left in the second quarter, Diggs ran the two-point conversion into the end zone to retake the lead 14-7.
In the second half, Provine took the opening kickoff and tied the score on its first possession with 8:34 on the clock on a two-yard run by Anton Taylor. The PAT was good for the 14-14 score.
Taylor was the Rams’ leading rusher this year with over 2,000 yards, averaging about 200 yards per game. The South Panola defense held him to 104 yards.
Of the 40 rushing plays for the Rams, Taylor carried the ball 34 times. Of the 10 completed passing plays, Taylor caught two.
After the kickoff, on first down South Panola committed its third fumble and Provine got it back on the Tiger 34 yard line with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
The Tiger defense was again the stronger as Provine was forced to turn the ball over on downs. On fourth down and two from the 25, senior Tiger linebacker Chris Strong dropped Taylor for a tackle for a loss to the 27.
On the next possession, the Tigers held onto the ball and in four plays, Griffin broke for a 56-yard run with 5:44 left in the quarter. A Ram defender grabbed onto Griffin at the three, but Griffin took him into the end zone with him.
The two-point conversion failed and the Tigers led 20-14 going into the fourth quarter.
With a key block from offensive lineman Quin Sanford, Griffin broke up the middle again for a 37-yard touchdown run with 9:55 left in the game.
The Tigers capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive with the two point conversion from Diggs to Griffin for the 28-14 lead.
After the kickoff, Provine was moving the ball with a mixture of pass and run plays.
On third down and 12 from the Tiger 38, Diggs who was doing double duty as a defensive back intercepted the ball with 6:49 left in the game and returned it to the Tiger 41 yard line. The Tigers moved the ball to the Ram 22 behind the legs of junior tailback Tigg Barksdale. On fourth and one, the Tigers were denied and turned the ball over on downs on the 22.
Despite back-to-back illegal procedure penalties, Provine was able to get in one last score before time expired. With 34 seconds left in the game, the Rams scored on a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Will Moore. With the PAT, the Tiger lead was cut 28-21.
The Rams were not giving up as they attempted an onside kick. It was recovered by junior tightend Jevon Robertson, who received a poke in the eye for his troubles.
The Tigers took a knee to end the game.
During halftime, the Provine band performed first and played to the visiting crowd.
The South Panola band took the field and on its last number played "September" on the track in concert formation. The Tiger crowd appreciated the serenade and showed it with a standing ovation.
In addition to Griffin, carrying the ball for the Tigers were Barksdale, 63 yards on 13 carries; Diggs, six yards on 11 carries and Corley, four yards on one carry.
Diggs completed three of five pass attempts for 87 yards and one touchdown.
Jefferson caught two passes for 73 yards and one touchdown.
For the Rams, quarterback Doug Rash completed 10 of 23 passes attempts for 163 yards and one touchdown.
The Tigers had 356 total offensive yards, including 269 rushing and 87 passing.
The Rams had 280 total yards with 163 passing and 117 rushing.
Provine controlled the clock with 26:39 minutes to South Panola’s 21:21 minutes.
Tickets for the South Panola/Clinton game will be $7 and will be on sale at the high school Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The ticket booth opens at 6 p.m. and no reserved seating is sold for playoff games.