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SP Season Opener

Captains for the South Panola game against Petal tonight at home are (left to right) seniors Devin Clark, Josefh Pope, Nick Parker and Martez Wallace. The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

Tiger/Panther matchup tonight brings heightened excitement

By Angie Ledbetter

When one of the nation’s top teams in the last several years opens the season tonight, they might be the under dogs to many people when the Petal Panthers step on the field to challenge them.

For the first time in several years, the South Panola Tigers will step on the turf at Robert H. Dunlap stadium not ranked number one team in Mississippi and in the top one hundred teams nationally.

The Tigers are ranked No. 2 in the state by the Clarion-Ledger and No. 99 by Max Preps and the Panthers are No. 18 by the Clarion-Ledger.

South Panola head coach Lance Pogue talked about tonight’s upcoming game and immediately addressed the broken win streak.

He said the pressure is off the team in a sense  because they do not hear about it every day.

 “We’re not crazy that it happened but all we’re focusing on is 2009. We put so much pressure on ourselves as a team because we want to win every game.”

Pogue describes this team of 67 players as one with a great feel of promise from a stand point and one that is going to get better each week.

“Early on, we’re going to suffer some growing pains because of so much youth and inexperience, especially on the defense,” he said. “We’ve got nine new starters on our defense this year that have never started a high school game but they’re very talented.

“We think the whole story is that our best is in front of us and we’re going to take it a game at a time and see how much better we get each week,” Pogue continued. “After we get several games under our belt and get to late November, we’ll be playing at our best.”

 Look for the red and white Panthers to come riding in to Tiger country from a four hour ride with a full force behind them. The scuttlebutt from down south is the Panther fans have charted about nine fan buses.

“I also know we’ll have a big crowd at the game. I’m anxious to turn the lights on, put our team on the field, get the crowd in there, get the band playing and let these guys experience Friday night at Tiger stadium.

“It’s a big deal for them to play South Panola,” said Pogue. “They had a great team last year finishing 10-2, winning their division down there but got beat in the first round of playoffs. They’re trying to build a program and to play South Panola is a big thing for them.”

Coached by Steve Buckley, the Panthers team will showcase 82 players with 22 seniors, 28 juniors and 32 sophomores.

“The Panthers had a good senior bunch last year which are all gone now but have some good young guys,” Pogue said. “They’re going to start a sophomore quarterback, Anthony Alford, No. 10, who is 6-1, 195. I understand he is an outstanding baseball player who plays shortstop and is very athletic. I feel like their focal point on offense will be centered around his ability.”

Much of the defense will be centered on Alford, according to Pogue. As far as the Panther defense, he said they will be of a good size.

The Panthers are very athletic, know how to win and have a lot of confidence coming into this game.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” Pogue said. “They have a lot of speed and ability.”

The first game brings many unknowns, Pogue said, regarding turnovers, penalties and kicking that can make a difference in a game.

“We’re just trying to be as sharp as we can be ourselves and hopefully not make too many mistakes.”

Pogue is looking for the defense to mature fast, but is depending on an experienced offense to do its part. Showcasing Dandy Dozen tailback senior Nick Parker to get the offense established. Also expecting to carry the offensive load is senior tailback Domonique Carothers and junior tailback Qyendairs Griffin.

“We’re equipped to play three tailbacks and we’ll mix and match some at quarterback.”

The Tiger team consists of nineteen seniors, twenty five juniors, twenty two sophomores and one freshman. According to Pogue the younger guys have bought into the program. “They’re excited about their time. We have such a great program with this group of seniors and young guys who are ready to step up and take their place as players. All the young guys have given us all that they’ve had and now all they need is some game experience.”

On a Tiger home game day, the players will meet at 1:30 and watch film until 3. A pregame meal is served at the high school cafeteria at 3. About 3:45 the players return to the field house and rest until 4:45. After that, players get taped.

At 6, the team gets ready for pregame warm-ups on the field and then return to the field house to get dressed. Around 7:15 the players come out of the Tiger head tunnel with smoke in the air.

Pregame on FM 100.5 with Judge George Carlson and Pogue starts at 7 and kickoff is 7:30.