NP football @ Independence

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2013

NP and Independence to battle for 3rd place in 2-3A

By Myra Bean

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North Panola Cougar head coach Derek King was encouraged by the team’s play against Charleston last Friday night.

He hopes that will stay with them as they prepare to meet Independence (4-6 overall, 2-2 district) in the regular season final game tonight.

North Panola (5-5, 2-2) travels to Independence for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The two teams have common history.

Independence hired Batesville’s Richard Russo as head coach following the 2012 football season. Under Russo, Independence snapped a 27-game losing streak August 30 against Coldwater.

Russo spoke on getting to the playoffs from a two-year winless team.

His mantra was “Be consistent, do right, give your all.”

“I thought if we worked really, really hard that we could make the playoffs,” he added. “I always believed that. However, there is still a big chasm between the talent, strength, speed, and football savvy of Charleston, Water Valley, and North Panola and us. However, GOD has blessed our hard work and dedication.”

The Independence team, like all teams, have had to make some sacrifices to have the turnaround season they have experienced.

“They had to change everything from the way they stretched, warned up, lifted, ran, practiced, prepared and looked,” Russo said. “Kids are kids whether it is Bruce, North Delta, Water Valley, or Independence. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

The NP/Independence Matchup

Both teams are playing for the same thing tonight: third place in district 2-3A. The loser plays North Pontotoc (7-3, 4-0) winner of District 1-3A. The winner of tonight’s game plays the winner of Booneville/Kossuth (4-5, 3-1) game with Booneville (7-2, 3-1) being the favored team to win.

Independence is coming off a 60-20 loss to Water Valley last Friday and before that a 21-20 win over Holly Springs. A PAT by Independence in the second quarter and missed extra points by both teams in the third and fourth quarters is the difference in that game.

“It is not a week off at all,” King said. “We all recognize, especially from Independence playing the junior varsity twice, they are a whole, whole lot better. The boys understand what is in front of us Friday.”

Coming off that emotional contest with Charleston, King said the team has had a pretty good week of practice. 

“We were all drained Friday but we are ready to go,” he said. “It’s that feeling of being so close. With Water Valley, we get within one possession. With Charleston, we exchanged touchdowns for a quarter which nobody had done except for Olive Branch.

“Those things give the boys that glimmer that we’re close but that sustainability to be able to put it together against a good team of that caliber, we are still working on it,” King added.

North Panola is not taking a win over Independence for granted. Under Russo, King expects to face a defense like Russo fielded when he was at Water Valley last year.

“They present a challenge first of all because Coach Russo’s defensive plan against us last year when he was at Water Valley was really good,” King said. “Again, it is another week that we have to prepare extra as coaches to create the advantages for the boys.”

Through film, King noted that Independence plays very hard.

“They create turnovers,” he said. “They got some good blitzes in on Charleston. They played hard with Water Valley the first part of the game. Took it hard to Palmer. He got a big win against Holly Springs.”

Some of the main players for Independence include junior quarterback Brandon Hailey, No. 5, who has eight rushing touchdowns on the year; junior tailback Xavier Wooten, No. 25, who has five rushing touchdowns and 627 yards; senior wide receiver/defensive back Dee Jenkins, No. 8; senior running back/defensive back Tavion Newson, No. 10 and No. 4 junior tightend/defensive lineman Said Jones, who has 128 tackles on the season. Junior fullback Tyler Bobo, No. 27, has five rushing touchdowns and 627 yards.

“The quarterback is a good athlete, works well, does a good job,” King said. “The tailback does a very good job of understanding how to run the ball, what his aiming points are and what his cutbacks are.

“We are going to have to be disciplined for another run heavy team which is all we face in this part of the state. Beefing up the run defense,” King added.


Justin Conner is out for the season with a broken rib he sustained during the first half of the game against Charleston.