| By Myra Bean
4th Straight State Championship
6 Time State Champions
Records: 15-0 season, 60th straight win
74-1 in five season
Holds state record for consecutive wins
The USA Today No. 11 nationally ranked South Panola Tigers made Mississippi history again by winning its fourth straight MHSAA 5A State Championship Friday night.
Two quick first quarter scores by Barksdale cousins Darius "Tigg" and Rickyus "Bud" gave the Tigers a 14-0 lead at halftime.
The Tigers may have thought they were on the way to a blowout shutout but Meridian reached deep and pulled up the strength which brought them into the championship "ring" with the "heavyweight" champs.
The Tigers took a 21-0 lead in the third quarter on a 66-yard pass from senior quarterback Leroy Diggs to senior tailback Jeramie Griffin.
Meridian scored 27 points in the second half to defeat Oak Grove in the south half championship game November 24. That thought was in the minds of many on the sidelines Friday night.
Meridian quarterback Walton Pitts hit his stride in the fourth quarter and connected for two touchdown passes over the heads and arms of South Panola defenders.
The Wildcat special teams returner Montez Moseley returned a kickoff 75 yards to cut the score 28-21.
South Panola turned the ball over on downs with 2:01 left in the game.
A Meridian sideline radio announcer on the Tiger sideline was heard saying he was anxious to see what Meridian would do in its two minute offense.
Though Meridian knew the Tiger "meat eater" defense was in the house, they did not realize the effect of a galvanized defense that took the field to preserve the win.
On three passes, the Tiger defense was there to play havoc.
On second down, Pitts had plenty of time due, to a stellar offensive line, to get rid of the ball, but the Tiger defensive secondary had all players covered which allowed senior defensive end Marlon Wilks to get in the backfield for the sack and loss of six yards.
On first down Tiger defensive back David Conner got a hand on the ball to break up the pass.
Meridian tried to convert a fourth down and 16 on a pass which was tipped by a Tiger defender and caused the turnover on downs.
South Panola took over on the Wildcat 26 and Diggs took a knee for the last 1:25 of the game and preserved the victory.
The Tiger offense got an excellent start to the game. They received the opening kickoff and Montez Austin downed it on the Tiger 16 yard line.
On the first play from possession, Tigg Barksdale used a big hole on his right side to run 84 yards for the touchdown, outrunning all defenders with only eight seconds off the clock.
With 11:42 left in the first quarter, sophomore David Renfroe, with Mario Nash holding, kicked the PAT for the 7-0 lead.
Meridian moved its first possession down to the Tiger 30, but was forced to turn the ball over on downs. The nearly 9,000 or so Tiger fans, of the total 14,000 people who braved the 30 degree weather, went wild.
The excitement escalated on the second Tiger possession on second and five from the Tiger 35, when Bud Barksdale broke to his right and toed the sideline for 65 yards to give South Panola a 14-0 lead with 7:26 left in the first quarter. The PAT by Renfroe was good.
On Meridian’s next possession, Tigg Barksdale sacked Pitts and caused a fumble. Tiger junior linebacker Terrance Pope picked up the ball and carried it to the Wildcat six.
The Meridian defense finally showed up and made a goal line stand. The Tigers were only able to move the ball to the half yard line. On fourth and goal, Meridian tackled Tigg Barksdale behind the line of scrimmage on the three and took over on downs.
"Offensively, we could have scored down here earlier," Tiger head coach Ricky Woods said. "I made a bad call. That was my fault. It wasn’t the only bad one I made tonight but it was a real bad one."
With 1:31 left in the second quarter, Renfroe missed a 27-yard field goal. He was perfect in PATs on the evening.
Two more determined than ever teams entered the field after halftime.
Meridian took the opening kickoff and drove the ball to the Tiger 10. The meat eater defense held its ground and forced the turnover on downs. It was a total Tiger defensive effort to stop that drive using Chris Strong, David Conner, Marvin Burdette, Marlon Wilks and Kevin Young. The drive took 4:50 minutes and 12 plays but the Wildcats came away scoreless.
The Tigers took the ball 90 yards in seven plays to go up 21-0. Diggs found Griffin on a slant pass and he raced 66-yards up the left side to score with 3:44 left in the third quarter.
Renfroe’s PAT gave the Tigers the 21-0 lead going into the fourth quarter using 3:54 minutes for the drive.
Meridian had the ball going into the fourth quarter and had just converted a fourth down and three on the 19 to a first down and 10 on the 13.
Wilks tackled the Wildcat runner for a two-yard loss to the 15 to bring up second and 12 from the 15.
Two incomplete passes brought up fourth down and 12. Meridian went for the conversion and this time Pitts hit his receiver for a first and goal on the one.
On the next play, Meridian’s Quadrell Martin scored on a one-yard run to avoid the shutout. With the PAT, the Tiger lead was cut 21-7 with 10:29 left in the game.
On the kickoff which had been short all evening, South Panola attempted to field the ball, but it went through the receiver’s hands. The quick Meridian defender covered the ball on the Tiger 23 yard line.
After a holding penalty put Meridian on the 35, the Wildcat offense made quick work of the short field of play and Wildcat receiver Lindsey Spinks scored on a 35-yard pass from Pitts on third and 11 with 9:11 to go in the game.
With the PAT, the Tiger lead was further cut 21-14.
The PA announcer said, "We have a ballgame."
That fired up the Tigers. Even though the Meridian short kickoff was fumbled again, the Tigers recovered it on their own 35.
A big play in this drive was a pass from Diggs to senior wide receiver Roderick Jefferson who moved the ball from the Tiger 38 to the Wildcats 28.
It took five more plays, but Tigg Barksdale scored his second touchdown of the evening on a five yard run on first and goal.
Renfroe’s PAT gave the Tigers a 28-14 lead with 5:26 remaining in the game.
Meridian was not done.
On the kickoff, Meridian’s Montrez Mosley scored on a 75-yard return with 5:14 left in the game.
"The kickoff team worried us and we had that one returned all the way back," Woods said.
With the PAT, the score stood 28-21 and the announcer repeated his earlier statement, "We have another ballgame."
The Tigers disagreed.
South Panola had a total of 479 offensive yards with 140 passing and 339 rushing. Meridian had a total of 274 yards, including 66 rushing and 208 passing.
Tigg Barksdale was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 191 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.
Bud Barksdale had 65 yards on one carry and one touchdown.
Season leading rusher Jeramie Griffin had 43 yards on 10 carries. Griffin also had one reception for 66 yards which was a touchdown. Leroy Diggs had 40 yards on 14 carries.
Diggs completed four of five passes for 140 yards. Quin Sanford had one reception for 33 yards and Roderick Jefferson had two receptions for 41 yards.
Meridian’s Pitts threw to eight different receivers.
After the game, five year head coach Woods (74-1) smiled and accepted accolades from the team, family, coaching staff, friends and MHSAA officials. He answered all sorts of questions from all media types and then he accepted the winner’s trophy from the Farm Bureau representative. He hoisted the trophy high and then handed it off to the players who had worked so hard all year long to earn it.
Woods praised the senior class of 15 which consisted of Chris Strong, Jeramie Griffin, Kevin Young, Marcus Lee, Leroy Diggs, Rodney Diggs, Maurice Market, C.J. Sowden, Demario Kincaid, Terrance Griffin, Vandell Pollard, Marlon Wilks, Hunter Bailey, Demetrius Dunn, Roderick Jefferson.
"We have a great senior class," Woods said. "This is good for them, too. They went through without losing a game. That’s pretty good for them."
Jeramie Griffin admitted he was a little nervous at times.
"We came through by playing good old fashion Tiger football," Griffin said.
Quarterback Leroy Diggs talked about the injuries the team encountered this year and how he had an early season injury to overcome.
"We just had to pull together with what we had to come through," Diggs said. "We made it back down here to a state championship. It feels great."
This No. 6 championship trophy will join the other five which can be seen in the mall at South Panola High School, along with blown up photos of all six of the state championship teams.