| By Myra Bean
In what can only be called the biggest game of the week, the No. 1 and No. 2 5A teams in Mississippi will meet tonight to decide who goes on to play for the state championship.
For the second time this season, South Panola (13-0) will make the trip to Olive Branch (12-1) for the north half championship.
The two teams met September 29 in Olive Branch and nothing but a battle for dominance ensued. South Panola exited the game with a 12-7 win, the closest win of the season for the Tigers.
"This will be a real physical ball game," said Tiger head coach Ricky Woods. "It will be a challenge. This is why coaches coach and players play. We’re looking forward to it."
Woods said Wednesday morning the players and coaching staff were excited about the game. The team and coaches were eating a pre-Thanksgiving meal after practice in the high school cafeteria.
"I believe the team that makes the least mistakes will win," Woods said.
Woods reported another "great" week of practice for the Tigers.
The teams have played seven more games since that first meeting. Both had their share of problems to overcome.
South Panola is ranked No. 1 in the state by the Clarion Ledger while Olive Branch sits at No. 5.
The Tigers moved up in national rankings. They moved up to the No. 13 spot in the USA Today and No. 12 in the National Prep Poll. They remained at No. 5 in the National Tony Poll.
"This game’s got more and bigger implications than when we played them seven weeks’ ago," Olive Branch head coach Scott Samsel said in the DeSoto County Tribune. "I’d like to think we’re better now than we were then."
Olive Branch’s last three and only losses in the last two seasons have come at the hands of the Tigers.
No team this year has held South Panola nor Olive Branch to those few points scored in that game.
"This will probably be one of the best games we will have to play, as far as atmosphere and crowd," Woods said.
The Olive Branch Conquistadors "Quistors" have scored 513 points this season while allowing only 110. They have shutout five teams this year.
The most points a team scored against them was Northwest Rankin in last week’s 31-20 win.
In the first round of playoffs, Olive Branch held off Madison Central with a 14-10 win. Madison Central was threatening to score in the fourth quarter, but Olive Branch held them on fourth down and forced the turnover.
South Panola has scored 393 points and allowed 107. The Tigers won their 58th straight game last week against Clinton, 28-14.
Woods has been at South Panola since 2002 and has amassed a 72-1 record. In 18 years of coaching, he has a 202-40 record.
This season, the Tigers have logged 4,513 yards of offense and allowed opponents 1,892. Tigers have rushed for 3,409 yards and allowed opponents 680. The Tigers have passed for 1,104 yards and allowed 1,196.
Quarterback Leroy Diggs leads the Tiger charge with 796 passing yards on 45 of 86 attempts and nine touchdowns. Diggs has thrown five interceptions and been sacked nine times. In rushing yards, Diggs has 861 and 12 touchdowns.
Leading rusher for the Tigers is senior tailback/fullback Jeramie Griffin with 1,137 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has 133 receiving yards on nine receptions.
Leading the receivers is senior wide receiver Roderick Jefferson with 676 yards on 34 catches and 10 touchdowns.
On defense senior linebacker Chris Strong has 58 tackles, two fumble recoveries and three sacks. Senior linebacker Kevin Young leads the defense in tackles with 64, caused two fumbles, has one interception and six sacks.
Young said following the win over Clinton Friday night they played Tiger football.
"We made something out of nothing," Young said. "Big players play big games."
In the Tribune, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 fans attended the last meeting between these two and some fans reported being turned away at the gate. That many are expected at this game, but school officials reported they would only allow 8,000 in the stadium.
Tribune reporter Jamie Mercer relayed information from the school that tickets for the game were almost sold out.
Tickets that are available will be sold from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today and at the ticket booth which will open at 4:15 p.m. The gates will open at 5 p.m.
Other regional playoff games include 5A Oak Grove (12-1) will be at Meridian (10-3).
In a heated matchup in 4A, defending state champion West Point (12-1) will travel to Clarksdale (12-1) for this north battle. In the south, Wayne County (13-0) will travel to Terry (12-1).
Playing for the north in 3A, Nettleton (13-0) will host Ripley (11-2) and in the south Franklin County (12-1) will host defending state champion Hazlehurst (10-2).
Playing in the north division in 2A are Calhoun City at Baldwyn. Down south East Marion (11-1) will host St. Andrews (12-1).
In 1A East Webster (11-1) in the north will host Vardaman (13-0) Friday night. For the south spot, Puckett (12-0) will be at Lake (12-1).
Lake’s only loss was to Puckett 20-7 on September 29.