State Championship 2009

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 4, 2009

These guys might be smiling now but tonight when South Panola and Oak Grove clash it will be all business. Attending the State Championship press conference Monday were (l to r) Devin Clark, South Panola; James McMahon, Vince Taylor, Steve McNair Jr., all of Oak Grove; and Domonique Carothers, South Panola. The Panolian photo by Angie Ledbetter

State Championship: SP vs. Oak Grove

By Brad Greer

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It has been nearly a year to the day since South Panola’s thrilling 26-20 overtime loss to Meridian in last year’s 5A state championship game. And while players and coaches alike do not dwell on the past, something very important to them was left in Jackson on that cold December night.

“It was a great ballgame between two great high school football teams, but we forgot to bring something back with us. This year our kids are hungry and want to bring home a state title,” said Tiger head coach Lance Pogue.

South Panola’s chance for redemption ends tonight as the Tigers aim for their eighth state championship when they tangle with Oak Grove in the first ever MHSAA Class 6A championship at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. South Panola will head into the game ranked No. 21 in both USA Today and national prep polls.

Oak Grove heads into tonight’s contest with a record of 11-2 on the season after defeating Ocean Springs 27-6 in the South State title game last Friday.

The Warriors, who finished the regular season runner-up to Meridian in Region 3-6A, are led by a familiar name to Mississippians. Steve McNair Jr., son of the late NFL star, has done just about everything for Oak Grove as the wide receiver/running back has accounted for 1,579 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns on the year. The senior has 311 yards rushing to go along with 61 catches for 709 yards and eight touchdowns. McNair, a Southern Mississippi commitment, is also a threat on special teams by returning a total of 408 yards on punts and kickoffs combined.

Oak Grove head coach Nevil Barr said the Warriors must find a way to get the ball into the hands of McNair in order to be successful.

“It is no secret we have got to find a way to get him the ball in open space against an outstanding defensive unit such as South Panola. He has the ability to make things happen when we give him the chance to,” said Barr.

The Warriors are by far not a one-man team as they have three receivers with more than 400 yards receiving. Jonathan Duncan leads the team with 879 yards on 59 catches and six touchdowns followed by Dandy Dozen selection Robert Johnson with 31 catches for 563 yards and five scores. Dillon Fedora is third on the team with 32 catches for 430 yards and five TD’s.

Calling signals for Oak Grove is senior James McMahon. Despite missing part of the season with a broken clavicle, McMahon is 171-of-269 passing for 2,362 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season while throwing only six interceptions. The Warriors might be hindered somewhat on offense as their leading rusher Jay Hughes is questionable for the game after suffering a sprained knee sustained last week. Barr said sophomore Jordan Woods would replace Hughes in the backfield.

Barr said his squad will have to play a nearly perfect game to defeat South Panola.

“We are playing our best football right now. We had some injuries early on in the year but we have got our quarterback healthy. We are real young defensively. At one time we started seven sophomores in the early part of the season. We are just thankful to be where we are right now,” said Barr.

“Well, obviously they (South Panola) are hands down the best team in the state of Mississippi. They are a great program that is known nation-wide and we know we are going to have to play our best game possible to beat them. They are unbelievable against the run as well as against the pass so we are going have to be balanced on offense to be successful,” said Barr.

Oak Grove’s losses have came at the hands of Natchez (45-28) and Hattiesburg (42-29) while two of their biggest wins have come against Meridian (28-21 in the regular season and 42-28 in the second round of the playoffs).

Vanderbilt commitment Vince Taylor leads the Warrior 4-3 defense with 117 tackles and seven quarterback sacks.

South Panola meanwhile will look for another dominating performance from the offensive line consisting of Austin Douglas, E. J. Jones, Martez Wallace, Kenyahti McMurry and Deshondrick Hines to open up holes for the backfield trio of Nick Parker, Domonique Carothers and Kendrick Market.

Last week, the Tigers rushed for 379 yards in pounding Madison Central. Carothers rushed for 210 yards on 28 carries while finding the end zone three times.

“Oak Grove is somewhat like Madison Central when it comes to throwing the ball around,” Pogue said. “They have some very good receivers who if they get their hands on the ball they can take it the distance. We are not going to change a whole lot on defense. We have got to put pressure on the quarterback and be physical on defense. The main key for us is to create some turnovers and so far we have been pretty good at that this season. They are going to make some big plays and we know that, we just have to limit them on how many they make.”

Pregame tickets are $10 and will be available until 10 a.m. today at South Panola High School. At the gate, tickets will be $12.