SP football at Tupelo

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tigers’ denying defense prepares to stop Tupelo

By Myra Bean
Though it does not seem so, it was only six weeks ago South Panola and Tupelo tangled in 1-5A action on October 19.
It was only five weeks ago, Olive Branch and Starkville struggled for dominance.

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Tonight these four teams are playing for keeps after dominating the top four teams from Region 2-5A last week.

“Any time you play a team twice, it is tough,” Tiger head coach Lance Pogue said. “You become familiar with each other. We have to guard against that. We have had a good week of practice and believe we are prepared for Tupelo.”

South Panola (12-0) defeated Provine (9-3) 42-13 at home while Tupelo (9-3) took care of Clinton (8-4) 42-14 on the road. On the other end, Starkville (7-5) and Olive Branch (10-2) barely escaped to play another game. Starkville defeated Madison Central (6-6) 33-28 on the road while host Olive Branch had to come from behind with three fourth quarter touchdowns to beat Northwest Rankin (8-4) 31-27.

South Panola ended the regular season the 1-5A district champion, while Olive Branch slid into second place. Tupelo was in the unenviable third place, while Starkville is in fourth place and had to take on the No. 1 team in 2-5A.

Olive Branch lost to Starkville 14-7 on October 26 and defeated Tupelo in the last game of the regular season 21-14. Only seven points separate these teams.

While South Panola hosted Tupelo in October, Tupelo will draw the attention tonight hosting the second round of the playoffs. Olive Branch has to make its second straight trip to Starkville in five weeks.

It has long been said it is difficult to defeat a team twice in a year, but over the years South Panola has proven that it is possible.

“They know now if they lose it is all over,” Pogue said. “That is plenty of motivation. They will take this real serious.”

The last two years, South Panola and Olive Branch have met in the north half game. Even if the first game between these two teams was tough, South Panola improved throughout the season and dominated the second game.

In 2005 in the regular season game, South Panola defeated Olive Branch 27-3, but shut them out in north half 26-0. In 2006, Olive Branch led for a while but the Tigers came out the 12-7 victors. In north half before a sold out crowd, South Panola took no prisoners last year and shut down the Quistor offense 35-13.

South Panola and Tupelo gave the near capacity crowd a good game in October. Tupelo is showcasing the best team it has had in years with Clarion Ledger Dandy Dozen running back Ken Davis leading the team. Davis scored four touchdowns and rushed for 199 yards against Clinton.

Pogue said the Tigers did not play well against Tupelo the first time.

“We hope to go out and play a good game,” he said.

In route to an unprecedented fifth straight state championship, the Tigers remain steady at No. 3 in the Sports Illustrated Super 25 poll. The Tigers are moving up in the USA Today Poll but have not broken into the top 10 at No. 11 this week. They are looking to end the season with the nation’s longest active win streak of 75. Against Tupelo, they go for game No. 73.

Tiger players have meshed together to make the 2007 team one of the best to represent the school in the 14 years it has been competing on a powerhouse scale. Led by senior Dandy Dozen running back Darius “Tig” Barksdale, the Tigers have outscored opponents 401-145. Barksdale has 27 touchdowns to his credit.

In total offense, the Tigers have 4,391 and allowed 1,840. The worse statistic for the powerhouse team is the number of penalties they have amassed this season. The Tigers have been hit with 115 penalties for 1,007 yards. Opponents have 54 penalties and 346 yards.

Though the Tiger offense has garnered a lot of attention and respect, the Tiger defense is still doing what it does best: deny. The “denying defense” could easily become the “meat eaters” new name.

With different players taking a lead on defense, the Tigers can be called an all-around solid squad. Junior linebacker David Conner leads in total tackles with 67, followed by senior linebacker Joshua Shipp with 61. Conner also leads the team with 12 sacks, followed by Terrance Pope with seven.

The defense has 12 interceptions on the year with seniors Montez Austin and Bud Barksdale having four each.

With 40 or more tackles this season are Pope and Marvin Burdette, 45 each and Justin Carothers, 44.

The offense is led by junior quarterback David Renfroe, who is garnering attention around the nation as a standout baseball player. Renfroe has made his mark and secured his position on the Tiger squad completing 53 percent of his pass attempts this season. He has 46 completions and seven touchdowns. In the minus column, he has thrown five interceptions and been sacked six times.

His kicking game is a definite plus for the Tigers with 22 punts this year, averaging 32.6 yards per punt. He has made 92 percent of his extra point attempts, making 45 of 49. He is 100 percent in the field goal percentage, making both he attempted. He has put up 60 points in PATs and field goals. Renfroe has scored five rushing touchdowns this season.

Also rushing for the Tigers is sophomore Nicholas Parker hwo has six touchdowns on the year and 796 yards, behind Barksdale’s 2,043 rushing and 179 receiving yards.

The Tigers and the Golden Wave will square off for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Golden Wave field in Tupelo. Starkville will host Olive Branch at the same time. The winners will meet next week for the North Half game. Upon a win by South Panola, the Tigers will host the north half game.

Playing in the second round in south 5A are Oak Grove (9-2) at George County (11-1) and Ocean Springs (10-1) at Meridian (10-2).

The game will be broadcast on WBLE 100.5 FM with Judge George Carlson with the play-by-play.