By Myra Bean and Angie Ledbetter
The numbers speak for themselves. The South Panola Tigers are champs at the top of their game.
South Panola, 15-0, ranked No. 3 nationally by Sports Illustrated and Rivals.com Fab 50 and No. 9 by USA Today, extended its five-year win streak to 75 consecutive games. In six seasons, the Tigers are 89-1 dating back to 2002. The Tigers hold the nation’s longest active win streak after a 28-21 win over George County in the 5A state championship Friday night.
It was a night for making history. South Panola has been in the championship game 10 times in the last 14 years and brought home seven golden trophies for their efforts.
Head coach Lance Pogue just finished his first year as head coach and was able to keep the streak alive though there were some trying times throughout the season. One of those trying times happened in the game when star running back Darius “Tig” Barksdale threw down the ball before he crossed the goal line.
“I am proud of our players,” Pogue said. “George County fought us hard. We had a chance to put the game away 35-14, but we made a silly mistake down there. We dropped the ball before we crossed the goal line and gave them a little bit of spark. They scored and got the kick and they put us in a bind. We just had to hang on for life. We fought them off there at the end. I am so proud of the players. I am just proud to be a champion. I am so proud of our school, our town and our community. They deserved it. I am just proud to be a part of it.”
Barksdale, who ran for 333 yards on 32 carries, felt bad about the mistake and owned up to it.
“I know that I made a mistake at the end but I still want to thank God for letting us come out with the victory,” he said. “I had told the team that I was sorry for making the mistake.”
Barksdale was trying to apologize on the sideline right after the fumble and spiking penalty gave George County the ball on the 35 yard line, but the coaches said, “get some water and get back on defense. We still have a game to play.”
That touchdown would have tied Derek Pegues’ five-touchdown game back in 2004. Barksdale did score all four of the Tiger touchdowns on runs of nine, 71, two and four yards, respectively.
This is just the crowning jewel of Barksdale’s career as he was also named Hibbett Sports Player of the Game for the Mississippi Public Broadcasting network. His 71-yard touchdown with 11:50 left in the first half was the play of the game.
On the previous play from first down on the Tiger 32, Barksdale had been knocked for a three-yard loss to the 29 yard line with 40 seconds to go in the first quarter. He and quarterback David Renfroe did not give up. Renfroe handed off to Barksdale and the Tiger offensive line parted the defense like the Red Sea of old and Barksdale out ran everybody to the end zone.
“This game meant a whole lot to me,” Barksdale said in a postgame interview. “I’ve been playing with these boys ever since junior high. We came out together as a team and did what we were supposed to. I want to thank God for that and for letting us have a great season and for letting us come out with the state championship. I got a little nervous for a little bit but I told the team that we needed to come together because we were way better than that.”
The Tigers shut the Rebels out in the first half 21-0, but got shut out in the third quarter. The Tigers were usually the team who came back out with a breathe of fresh air in the second half, but George County showed it had a lot of steam left in the second half. The Rebels took advantage of some Tiger mistakes and scored three touchdowns in the second half.
The Tigers were hit with 106 yards on 12 penalties and fumbled the ball away twice. Both fumbles led to the two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. George County’s first touchdown in the third quarter came on a touchdown pass which included a pass interference call on the Tigers.
Barksdale carried the ball 327 times this year for 2,917 yards and scored 35 touchdowns including receiving and interception return touchdowns. South Panola had a total 645 rushing plays and Barksdale carried the ball 51 percent of the time. The Tigers had a total of 4,564 rushing yards. Barksdale rolled up 64 percent of the yards this season.
Mumbling and grumbling have been heard throughout the season and the stands that the new coach was working Barksdale too hard and using him up.
“I might have carried the ball too much in some games, but I am glad I did carry it that much,” Barksdale said.
Whatever the critics thought, Barksdale carried the Tiger team through this season like seniors of old. Barksdale finished his fourth football season at South Panola playing behind some of the other leading tailbacks like Pegues, Germichael Sanford, Ricky Sanford, Jeramie Griffin and Leroy Diggs. As seniors they carried the team. This year it fell to Barksdale.