| By Myra Bean
- 14-0 season record
- 59 straight wins
- 73-1 five year record
- 5th Straight State Championship appearance
- 3 Straight State Championship Titles
All these statistics and more describe the South Panola Tigers as they prepare for the 2006 State Championship.
The 64-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game by South Panola senior tailback Jeramie Griffin set the tone for the 35-13 blowout of Olive Branch Friday night.
"This was by far the best game we’ve played this year," Tiger head coach Ricky Woods said.
The Tigers got the opening kickoff and proceeded to dominate the Quistors in route to a return trip to the 5A State Championship Friday night, December 1.
This will be the Tigers’ fifth straight trip to the "Big House". They have won three straight titles and own a 59-game win streak with the win Friday night.
The "buzz" had been going around all week around the state of Mississippi for this game which had to limit the crowd attendance to 8,000 tickets.
Tiger fans had to put up with Olive Branch fans on the visitor’s side. The seats in the visitor stands were filled before 5:05 p.m. Reserved seating in the home stands did not fill up until game time even though reserve seating was not supposed to be available during playoff games.
"I think it was disrespectful of Olive Branch fans to try to crowd the little space we had on the visitor’s side," said Bianka Hall of Batesville.
"They can’t run us away," said Tony Sanford of Courtland, a former Tiger of the 1999-2001 teams.
The rivalry between the two teams dates back for years. Though it has heated up in the past three years as both teams have experienced greater success.
Olive Branch has lost six games in the last three years, five to South Panola. Their four losses in the last two years all came at the hands of the Tigers. First year head coach Scott Samsel built on the team’s success under Jamie Mitchell.
The Tigers got the opening kickoff on the 30 yard line. Junior tailback Tigg Barksdale took the ball to the 36. Griffin covered the remaining ground as he broke through a hole in the offensive line and sprinted 64 yards for the touchdown as only 55 seconds had ticked off the clock. He took a couple of defenders with him into the end zone who could not bring him down.
David Renfroe was perfect on the night with PATs and made the score 7-0.
Though the Tiger offense did its job admirably with the 35 points against a team who had its own high octane offense, the Tiger defense, known as the meat eaters, created many thrilling plays during the night.
The Tigers sacked Olive Branch quarterback Cannon Smith eight times on the night. Taking turns with sacks were senior linebackers Chris Strong and Kevin Young, senior defensive end Marlon Wilks, junior defensive lineman Jarred Draper and sophomore linebacker Marvin Burdette.
A sack by Strong retired Smith for the night in the fourth quarter at the 5:49 mark. Both Strong and Smith will be playing in the U.S. Army All-American game on January 6.
South Panola and Olive Branch met September 29 and the Tigers won 12-7 in a nailbiter. The Tigers forced five turnovers in that game and also five in Friday’s game.
A thriller on the defense came at the hands of Young.
Olive Branch scored on a 17-yard pass with 1:52 left in the first quarter. Young got a hand on the ball for the PAT and sophomore defensive end David Conner grabbed it out of the air. The score stood 7-6 Tigers.
Conner returned to action after suffering a knee injury against Provine. He missed last week’s game against Clinton.
Woods credited having injured players back on the field as contributing to the win. Senior linebacker Demetrius "Sean Jean" Dunn suffered a right knee injury Friday night. Preliminary report was a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) which would end his high school career.
In the second quarter around the 6:20 mark, the two teams exchanged the ball with each play.
Burdette recovered a fumble on first down and 10 from the 23. Then on first down and 10, the Tigers fumbled the ball and Olive Branch recovered on the 21.
Then on the Quistors’ first down and 10, Burdette blocked the pass and Young intercepted it on the 10 yard line with 6:12 on the clock.
Three plays later, the Tigers capitalized with a six yard run by quarterback Leroy Diggs with 4:41 on the clock. The Tigers led 21-6.
The Tigers’ second score came on a pass from Diggs to senior wide receiver Roderick Jefferson who was back after a one-game suspension.
With time on his hands due to the work of a strong offensive line, Diggs floated the ball to the middle of the endzone for a 19-yard pass to double covered Jefferson. He was between the defenders and came down with the ball with 6:45 left in the half giving the Tigers a 21-6 halftime lead.
Olive Branch took the opening kickoff of the third quarter. On first down and 10, Strong caused a fumble on a Tiger blitz and Young recovered it on the Quistor 24.
On third and goal from the two, Griffin scored with 9:05 left in the third quarter. With the PAT, the Tigers led 28-6.
The Quistors’ next possession was stopped by an interception by Tiger Montez Austin, his second of the year. Olive Branch was driving from the Tiger 33 when Austin came into the picture.
The Tigers scored on that possession after a 16-play drive with most of the yards coming from running back Tigg Barksdale who on one play beckoned Quistor defenders to come to him.
The Quistor tackled Barksdale, but only after he made a first down. On third and goal from the one foot line, Diggs powered through for the touchdown.
On the previous play, there was a discussion among the officials whether Griffin had broken the plane of the end zone. One official had signaled touchdown while another had marked the actual end zone for placement of the ball.
The PAT by Renfroe gave the Tigers their last point of the evening, 35-6, with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
On the next possession by the Quistors, their offense showed why they had been so successful this season. Quarterback Smith hooked up with senior running back Demontanise Hill for an 80-yard touchdown pass. It looked like the Tiger defensive back had knocked the ball loose, but Hill held on and shook the defender and sprinted for the score.
The PAT cut the Tiger lead 35-13 with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers were not finished with the Quistors. On the Quistors’ next possession after a Tiger punt, Diggs was on defense and intercepted a pass with 9:15 left in the game.
The Tigers logged 300 total offensive yards with 272 rushing. The Quistors were limited to 115 total offensive yards with 93 passing and were limited to 22 rushing yards.
Leading rushers for the Tigers were Griffin, 108 yards; Tigg Barksdale, 105 yards; Diggs, 40 yards and Nash, 19 yards.