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SP Drive for 5

Justin Hardrick’s senior season was abruptly cut short due to an inherited heart problem he did not know he had. When he was able he returned to the Tiger sideline and served as a manager this year. He displays the two previous rings he already had as a team member. (Select photo gallery link at left to view more photos from the state championship). The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

Tigers win fifth consecutive state championship, 7th of 10 games

By Brad Greer

South Panola’s “Drive for five” consecutive Class 5A championships turned out to be a fight to survive Friday night as the Tigers held off a furious George County fourth quarter rally to escape with a 28-21 victory in front of approximately 18,000 fans at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The victory completed a fifth straight 15-0 season for the Tigers, who have won 75 games in a row dating back to a 21-14 loss to Wayne County in the 5A final in 2002. George County saw its 13-game winning streak come to an end. Ironically, the Rebels’ other loss came against the War Eagles in week one of this season.

After George County cut the Tiger lead to 28-21 with 2:54 remaining in the game, the Rebels recovered the onside kick. Four plays later and facing a fourth-and-five from the Tiger 44, Rebel quarterback Tookie Hopkins connected with Johnny Fairley for a nine-yard gain to the South Panola 35. Another four plays later garnered two yards, then on fourth-and-eight Montez Austin broke up a pass intended for Dandy Dozen receiver Alonzo Lawrence with 39 seconds left to seal the game.

South Panola dominated the first half, taking a seemingly comfortable 21-0 halftime lead on three touchdown runs by tailback Tig Barksdale, who rushed for 333 yards on 32 carries. The 6-foot; 200-pound Barksdale ended a stellar senior season with over 2,900 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns.

The Tigers received the opening kickoff and promptly marched  64 yards on eight plays capped off by a Barksdale nine-yard run to take a 7-0 lead. A 13-yard pass reception from David Renfroe to David Baker aided the drive.

On the following possession, the Rebels drove to the Tiger 32, but stalled when cornerback Bud Barksdale broke up a fourth down pass. Then on the second play of the second quarter, running back Barksdale busted a 71-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead following Renfroe’s PAT.

George County could not muster anything in the second quarter against the tenacious Tiger defense as the Rebels only could muster up 35 yards of offense.

South Panola went up 21-0 with 6:32 left before halftime by marching 53 yards on eight plays capped off by Barksdale’s two-yard run. Renfroe’s 26-yard strike to Jermarcus Hardrick on second-and-11 from the Rebel 44 was the big play in the drive.

The Rebels mounted their rally on the opening possession of the second half when Hopkins hooked up with Lawrence on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 8:39 left in the third quarter. Both teams exchanged turnovers later in the period when Barksdale was stripped of the ball by Lawrence at the Tiger 28.

George County gave the ball right back on the very next play as Lareco Lee recovered a Billy Joe Johnson fumble on the Tiger 23.

Barksdale added his fourth touchdown of the night on a two-yard run with 11:06 remaining in the game for a 28-7 lead.

That is where things got hairy for the Tigers and their fans.

South Panola looked to put the game away with 10 minutes left when Barksdale absent-mindedly spiked the ball on the Rebel one after breaking a 30-yard run. Making matters worse, Barksdale was flagged 15 yards for showboating on the play, giving the ball to George County on the 35.

That seemed to light a spark in the Rebel offense as they drove 60 yards in 14 plays when Hopkins hooked with Landry Fairley on a four-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-14 with 6:36 left.

The Rebels got the ball back with 4:25 left and marched 65 yards on 10 plays and scored on a nine-yard pass play from Hopkins to Johnny Fairley for a 28-21 Tiger lead.

Statistically, the Tigers dominated the contest by out-gaining the Rebels 407-198 total yards. South Panola rushed for 369 yards as a team compared to 61 for George County. Hopkins was 10-of-28 passing for 137 yards and three touchdowns while counterpart Renfroe was 3-of-5 for 38 yards. The Rebels were flagged six times for 68 yards while South Panola was penalized 12 times for 106 yards.

Nicholas Parker had five carries for 23 yards while Renfroe added two carries for 13 yards. Hardrick, Baker and Xavier Lee each caught passes for South Panola.