| By Myra Bean
With the 28-14 win over the Clinton Arrows (9-4) in the quarterfinals, the South Panola Tigers have a rematch with Olive Branch for the North Half Championship this Friday night.
The Tigers (13-0) won their 58th straight game by holding off a very physical Arrows team. Olive Branch had a scoring shootout with Northwest Rankin (10-3) but came out with a 31-20 win.
Olive Branch (12-1) had a 24-6 halftime lead and scored only once in the third quarter. Northwest Rankin scored twice in the fourth quarter, but held Olive Branch scoreless.
On a cold night before approximately 6,000 fans, the Tigers and the Arrows played for the top dog position on a wet and muddy field.
South Panola was playing with handicaps Friday night. Senior wide receiver Roderick Jefferson and junior fullback Reuben Corley did not play. They were serving a one game suspension for school discipline violations.
Sophomore defensive back David Conner was out with a knee injury and senior tailback Jeramie Griffin played while battling a stomach virus.
Despite a sluggish start, the Tigers rallied to come from behind to send the game into halftime tied at seven.
Taking advantage of his starting role this week, senior wide receiver Marcus Lee scored on a 23-yard pass reception from senior quarterback Leroy Diggs to break the tie with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
South Panola took the opening kickoff on its own 37 but had to punt the possession away. Clinton did the same on its opening possession.
With 6:26 left in the first quarter, South Panola fumbled the ball and Clinton recovered it on the Tiger 30 yard line. That fumble led to the first Clinton touchdown with 3:38 on the clock. Clinton scored on a four-yard run by quarterback Wesley Mounger and took a 7-0 lead with the PAT (point after touchdown).
After two South Panola punts, the Tiger defense stopped the Arrow offense on fourth down and one on the Tiger 44. Senior defensive end Marlon Wilks and linebacker Kevin Young combined to tackle the Arrow runner for no gain. The Arrows turned the ball over on downs and excitement in the Tiger stands and sideline increased.
Behind the legs and arms of quarterback Diggs, the Tigers took the ball down the field in 12 plays. Diggs capped the drive with a three-yard run with 33 seconds left in the half. David Renfroe tied the score with a PAT.
In the third quarter, Clinton took the opening kickoff, but fumbled the possession with 10:23 on the clock. Senior linebacker Rodney Diggs recovered the fumble on the Clinton 29 yard line.
That fumble recovery set up the touchdown pass from Diggs to Lee. Diggs was flushed out of the pocket when he made that pass and found Lee who got behind the defender for the catch.
The Tigers got the ball back on their own 16 yard line on a Clinton punt with 6:04 left in the third quarter. On first down and 10, Diggs broke up his left side and sprinted for the end zone, but was caught at the Clinton 15 yard line.
An offside penalty moved the Tigers back to the 18, but a Clinton pass interference penalty put the Tigers at first and goal from the six. A tackle for a loss pushed the Tigers back to the eight.
On second and goal from the eight, Diggs scored on an eight-yard run with 3:13 left in the third quarter for the 20-7 lead. Renfroe’s PAT was wide to the left.
The Tigers’ last score was by Montez Austin who returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion from Diggs to Griffin was good for the 28-7 lead.
The Arrows answered on their next possession. On third down and 10 from the 20, Mounger found senior wide receiver Phillip Blackman for the 80-yard touchdown pass. Blackman took the ball from two Tiger defenders and sprinted for the end zone. The PAT cut the lead to 28-14.
Diggs was the leading rusher for the night with 136 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He has 861 rushing yards for the year and 12 touchdowns.
In passing, Diggs completed two of four passes for 37 yards and one touchdown. He was not sacked and threw no interceptions. He has 796 passing yards on the year and has completed 45 of 86 pass attempts and nine passing touchdowns.
Junior tailback Darius "Tigg" Barksdale had 100 rushing yards on 19 carries. He has 746 yards for the year and seven touchdowns.
Griffin rushed for 12 yards on six carries. He has 1,137 yards for the season and 16 touchdowns. Griffin also has nine catches for 133 yards this season.
Bud Barksdale was in for one running play and got three yards.
Lee had two receptions for 37 yards and one touchdown.
The Tiger defense had a battle on its hands but still turned in a stellar performance.
South Panola had 251 rushing yards and 37 passing for a total of 288 offensive yards. The Tigers held Clinton to 80 rushing yards and 135 passing for a total of 215 yards.
South Panola had 14 first downs and Clinton had 11. Clinton lost one of two fumbles. South Panola lost its only fumble.
The Tigers were penalized eight times for 49 yards. Clinton was penalized four times for 35 yards.
South Panola held the ball 28:16 minutes to Clinton’s 19:44 minutes.
On defense, senior defensive end Marlon Wilks led with nine total tackles including eight solo tackles. Rodney Diggs had seven tackles, one fumble recovery and one interception.
Junior defensive lineman Deshun Sandridge and senior linebacker Chris Strong each had six tackles. Senior linebacker Kevin Young had five tackles and caused one fumble.
Also logging tackles were Marvin Burdette, three; Bud Barksdale, one; Jarred Draper, Terrance Pope and Tigg Barksdale, four each; and Montez Austin, one interception.
The Tigers remained ranked No. 5 nationally by the National Tony Poll released Sunday.
The Tigers will travel to Olive Branch Friday. One thousand tickets are on sale through noon today, Tuesday, for the game at the South Panola School District office for $7 each. According to school superintendent Keith Shaffer, Olive Branch will only sell 8,000 tickets for the game.
Kickoff for Friday is 7 p.m.