SP v Apopka

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

South Panola’s Nicholas Parker (left) breaks for one of his four touchdowns with an Apopka defender chasing him as Tiger Reuben Corley moves in for the block. South Panola took out the No. 1 Apopka Blue Darters of Apopka, Fla. 28-18 before a full house and ESPNU audience. The Panolian photo by Andy Young

SP silences critics with 28-18 win over Apopka

By Angie Ledbetter

Before an estimated crowd of 7,500 at Robert H. Dunlap stadium and on nationally televised ESPNU, the South Panola Tiger football team sent a message to the rest of the country that they were for real with a 28-18 win over the No. 1 team out of Florida, the Apopka Blue Darters.

The Tigers took their win streak to 79.

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With many people around the country doubting the Tigers could win over a nationally-ranked team, the Tigers showed they can play with the best and continue winning. The Tigers have not lost a game since December 2002.

“It’s monumental,” two-year Tiger head coach Lance Pogue said. “They are the No. 1 6A team in Florida and have 3,500 kids in ninth through twelfth grade and we have 1,200. We wanted to take on a challenge and they showed everybody that they were a great football team.”

With the stadium packed, the Blue Darters saw a new bright colorful turf field, a new red press box, and loud fans wearing red shirts, holding up several signs showing support for the Tigers.

Coach Lance Pogue was excited about the win.

“Anybody that saw this game knows they are an outstanding team with a lot of weapons,” Pogue said. “They stretched us but we had some guys that stepped up big and I was really proud of it. I told the players before we took the field that we were holding the flag for the state of Mississippi tonight and I felt like we represented the state well. We really wanted to go against a really great football team.”

Junior running back Nick Parker was the big playmaker in the game.  He scored all four touchdowns and finished with a career high 243 yards.

“Nick Parker is a phenomenal running back,” Pogue said. “He had a lot of long big plays that bailed us out numerous times. I thought the key to the game was we got two turnovers and were able to score off both.”

Parker said, “God just stayed with us and wanted us to come out victorious and we did. This will help us a lot down the road because we learned a lot from Apopka, not knowing what they were going to run and not ever seeing anything like it. They came out and did some tricks on us and got us on a couple of plays but we came out in the second half and stopped what they had in the first half.”

Apopka quarterback Jeremy Gallon finished the game with 168 rushing yards on 22 carries and threw for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

“Jeremy Gallon was everything you had heard about him,” Pogue said. “He was phenomenal and a fantastic player who could play anywhere. He was a constant threat every time he got the football.”

Gallon said playing the game was a challenge to him.

“South Panola was a well-coached and a well-disciplined team,” he said. “We came out looking for a hard ball game and a challenge and they came out playing hard. We expected it all and were looking for it from them. This game will help us down the road in Florida by us playing harder and picking up where we left off. They don’t get any better than this. We wish them the best for the rest of their season.”

Tigers quarterback David Renfroe finished the game with 139 passing yards on six completions and one interception. His longest was 71 yards. Renfroe punted four times for 112 yards.

“Renfroe is a solid player,” Pogue said. “He gives us a chance because he can do so many things off of our running game. You saw the big ball he hit right before the half. That could’ve been the difference in the game. They go up and we come back with less than a minute to score and took the lead.”

Renfroe talked about what it was like to finally get to the game.

“It was intense for the whole game. They were a great team. We knew they were going to be fast which they were. It was a fun game and we enjoyed playing them and they enjoyed playing us. That’s how football is supposed to be.”

Renfroe said it was hard not to overlook Grenada last week. He remembers last year when they overlooked Columbus and found themselves down 14-0 at halftime.

“We had to come back and crawl through that game,” Renfroe said.

When the team got down, Renfroe said the seniors rallied the team to keep playing.

“We’ve been working with these younger guys all week preparing them for this game and not having a sloppy practice. Everybody has a job on the team and has to get it done. We challenged them every day.

“Apopka’s defense was probably the best we’ve faced in awhile,” Renfroe continued. “I’d go back to last year or the year before. They were fast and physical. They should win their state championship in Florida.”

The Tiger defense had a hard job the entire game. They had to defend an Apopka offense that they had not encountered before.

One of the biggest plays occurred when Apopka was threatening to score from the Tiger nine yard line. LaReco Lee intercepted a deflected pass. Five plays later, Parker broke for a 71-yard run. Renfroe topped it off with a PAT.

Pogue said the Tiger defense was outstanding, as it adjusted to the trick plays Apopka threw its way.

“The three scores we gave up were off deceptive trick plays,” Pogue said. “We were so keyed in stopping the run that they tricked us on those. In the second half they did some of the same but I thought we made a few adjustments and got our hands on a couple of balls and were able to create a couple of turnovers. Dealing with that deception and holding it down was big.”

Apopka changed up the offense and did a little bit of everything to stop the Tigers by passing the ball, and for three quarters it worked.

In the second quarter, 39 points were scored between the two teams. Apopka quarterback Jeremy Gallon scored on a two-yard run but the PAT was blocked.

Nick Parker responded with two 59-yard touchdowns to put the Tigers up 14-6.

Gallon found Caleb Nelson for touchdown passes of 28 and 25 yards, respectively, but the two-point conversion and PAT failed. Apopka led 18-14.

A 73-yard pass to Xavier Lee from Renfroe set up a one-yard touchdown by Parker with 40 seconds left in the first half to give the Tigers a 21-18 lead at the half.

The South Panola defense stood tough and strong holding Apopka scoreless in the second half. With 9:22 left in the game, Parker scored on the 71-yard run for another Tiger touchdown and the 28-18 victory went to the undefeated Tigers.

Pogue is relieved to have this game over with.

“It’s been a big deal,” he said. “I somewhat personally felt I pushed for this to happen. I wanted to represent our town, our school and all of our state against what I considered a top program in their state. When you’re No. 1 in 6A in Florida, you’re an outstanding football team. We beat them and I’m proud of it.”

Apopka head coach Rick Darlington told the Tigers after the game that they had heard a lot about them.

“You guys are first class all the way. You deserve everything that you’ve been getting and you’re going to get a lot more from now on and you deserve every bit of it. You’ve got great coaches and a great community.”