Sports view

Published 11:50 am Monday, November 19, 2018


By Jermey Weldon

Kudos to Coach Howard and the South Panola boys basketball team. The Tigers have started the season hustling hard and it’s paying off. The boys are 1-1 on the season, but that one loss was by a single point and on the road. They beat a fairly good Lafayette County team this week in overtime.

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All the county teams are in full basketball mode now, although North Panola High School will have to play with a couple of obstacles for a few weeks. The boys team is hampered some by the Cougar football season extending (at least) three weeks into the playoffs although no one is complaining. This could a championship year for North Panola – they certainly have the players and coaches to win it all – and Cougar Pride signs are popping up everywhere.

The North Panola girls are running and gunning, but not on their home floor. The freak windstorm the last of June ripped off a portion of the roof and the gym floor got wet. Officials thought the floor could be saved and did all the right things trying, but eventually it was decided the floor would have to be replaced.  Not having a home game for a while will be a disadvantage for the Cougar hoopsters, but they don’t seem to mind. I’m waiting to see if the basketball teams can match the success of the football team in the quest for 3A championships this year.

I hope to be in Charleston tonight for the North Panola-Charleston game with a lot of other Cougar fans. The players’ mascot is a big cat, our course, but I’ve started calling them Diffee’s Dogs and we all hope they are barking loud in the Free State tonight.

Last Friday night’s trip to Starkville was a good one, too. South Panola played good, hard football in the Tigers’ playoff game with the Yellowjackets. Coach Woods warned us early this year that he would be playing more 10th graders than ever, and that the Tigers weren’t very deep at key positions. He was right, and the Tigers struggled much of the season, but finished with a respectable record and lots of good things happened. The team got better each week, the younger players got game experience, and we can expect South Panola’s return to the top of Mississippi high school rankings next season.

Starkville is a good team and had a few really talented kids, especially on the lines. It was good to see our players hitting those guys hard and taking licks, too. Save for a couple of mistakes on key plays and some penalty problems, the Tigers fought them blow for blow most of the game, and it was a winnable game much of the way. It will be interesting to see how Starkville fares tonight against unbeaten Horn Lake, another really good 6A team.

For me, two plays in the Starkville game made the long drive worth the trip. In the second quarter running back Janari Dean was running right on a sweep and turned the corner in front of the Tiger bench where a Yellowjacket linebacker was waiting – no doubt thinking he would hit Dean and force him out of bounds. It didn’t happen that way. Dean lowered his head and ran over the linebacker, maybe even stepping on his chest as he went through him, and gained another 20 yards. The Tiger sideline erupted and rightfully so. It came late in the season, but it was one of the best hits any SP player had this season.

The other play still makes me laugh when I think about it. It happened late in the third quarter when the game was about out of reach for the Tigers. Punter Nathan Walls was on for his seventh punt of the game and he hit a pretty good one, about 35 yards. The Starkville defense end – about 6’2” and 220 pounds – had the job of blocking the punter if a return was coming.

There was no return of the punt so the big defender just stood in front of Walls as he was supposed to do. Suddenly, and for reasons known only to him, Walls gave the big lug a hard shove right in the chest. It didn’t move him an inch, but did irritate him. He lowered a shoulder and sent Walls flying at least five yards, maybe more.

Nathan was on our traveling baseball team a long time and I happened to be taking some pictures of him punting, so I was watching him and not the ball. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. Nate turned at least one flip backward but bounced back up and ran off. “Did you see that, coach?” he asked me when he got to the sideline. I asked him what in the world was he thinking to push that big kid when the play was about over anyway. “I don’t know. It was fun, though, and I’m going to hit him again if we have to punt.”

They punted again, but thankfully he didn’t get a shot at the big boy. Walls was a decent punter for high school this season and his dad told me he’s got some kicking camps lined up for him to attend. If he can add about 15 yards to his average (and he will with some work) he will be another weapon for Woods next season when he’s a senior.

A kid that can punt the ball 50 yards regularly can flip the field and make a big difference. Maybe, too, in the off season his dad will talk to him about not hitting SEC caliber defensive linemen and avoiding double back flips in return.