SP v Tupelo
By Brad Greer
Tupelo did something Friday night that had not been done but once all season. The Golden Wave defense held South Panola’s star running back Tig Barksdale out of the endzone, but little did they know the Tigers had an ace in the hole.
With the score knotted at 21-21 with 7:31 remaining in the game, cool-handed quarterback David Renfroe marched the Tigers on a 10–play, 63- yard drive capped off by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Lee on fourth and seven with 2:50 left in the game to lift South Panola to a dramatic 28-21 victory over the home standing Wave in the quarterfinals of the North 5A playoffs.
The win propelled South Panola to the North State finals Friday night where they will host Region 1 foe Olive Branch. The Conquistadors, (11-2) squeezed past Starkville 14-13 in overtime. Meridian will host George County for the South State championship. South Panola downed Olive Branch in their first meeting of the year 17-3 on October 5.
South Panola, (12-0) started their winning drive on their own 37. Barksdale, who finished the night with 124 hard-earned yards on 29 carries, busted an 11-yard run to the 48. Later in the drive, Renfroe scrambled 17 yards on a bootleg to the Wave 21. Three plays later on fourth and seven, the junior lofted a perfectly thrown pass to Lee in the back corner of the endzone for the game winning touchdown. Renfroe then added the point after conversion
“I knew I could beat my man. It was a post-corner route and David put it right in my hands. All I had to do is hang on to the ball,” said Lee, who had two catches go for touchdowns in the game.
South Panola tied the game at 21-21 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Renfroe, who was six-of-nine passing for 100 yards on the night, threw to six-foot-seven, 295-pound tight end Jemarcus “Yoshi” Hardrick who made an outstanding juggling catch, hurdled a defender and raced 24 yards for the touchdown to complete a six-play, 81-yard drive that took 2:24 off the clock.
“I’ve been waiting six weeks to do that,” said a smiling Hardrick as he talked about his first touchdown of the year. “I’m glad the coaching staff had enough confidence in me to make the play. We just refused to quit tonight and played team ball.”
Tupelo, (9-4) took a 21-14 lead with 2:24 left in the third quarter on a five-yard touchdown pass from Chris Garrett to Chad Bumphis to cap off a 14-play 61-yard drive. Three South Panola penalties including a crucial offsides call on fourth and one from the Tiger 11 aided the drive.
The Golden Wave drew first blood in the game by taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter as Garrett hooked up with Parker Ball on a two-yard pass with 3:32 showing on the clock. The drive started on South Panola’s 45 after a Bumphis 42-yard punt return.
Following a Barksdale interception of Garrett with 2:21 left in the first half, the Tigers had possession on the Wave 31. Renfroe kept the drive alive when he connected with David Baker on a fourth down reception to the Wave 16. Following a time out, Lee took a screen pass from Renfroe and raced 13 yards for the touchdown.
“We really needed a spark and the touchdown before half was big. We just stayed focused the whole night and played as a team. I feel like we made too many penalties but we seemed to find ways to overcome them. But give Tupelo credit, they played a heck of a game, but so did we,” said Renfroe.
Tupelo came out of the locker room on fire and drove 64 yards on four plays to take a 14-7 lead when Ken Davis busted up the middle for a 22-yard run. The Ole Miss commitment rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries.
But South Panola answered with trickery on the next drive. Facing a fourth and two from the Tupelo 43, the Tigers lined up to punt. Instead, David Conner took the snap from center and went 43 yards for the score to tie the game at 14-14 following Renfroe’s PAT.
The Golden Wave finished the night with 217 total yards while South Panola registered 303 yards. South Panola had 15 first downs compared to 10 for Tupelo. Lee led the Tigers in receiving with two receptions for 32 yards while David Baker added 23 yards on a pair of catches. Devin Clark hauled in one catch for 21 yards.
Tickets for the game between South Panola and Olive Branch will be on sale Thursday and Friday at the high school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $7. The ticket booth will open Friday night at 6 p.m.