Friday: Olive Branch (11-2) at South Panola (13-0), 7 p.m.
Read more about the football playoffs in Friday’s Daily Journal.
To even have a sliver of hope, to even trick oneself into believing beating South Panola is possible, there is one goal that must be accomplished: Score a touchdown in the first quarter.
Only three teams have done so this season. Two of them wound up playing the Tigers closer than any other teams: Columbus in a 21-14 loss, Tupelo in last week’s 28-21 second-round playoff loss. The other, DeSoto Central, trailed 16-7 at halftime and lost 45-21 (Tupelo and Starkville were the only other teams to score that many points against South Panola this fall).
Tig Barksdale is indeed all that, but South Panola’s defense is the one setting the tone, and it will attempt to do so Friday night against Olive Branch in the Class 5A North final.
“It’s always big if you can come out there right off the bat and shut a team down and get your offense going,” first-year South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. “We don’t put that much focus on it. We’re a pretty good second-half team, too.”
The Tigers are led by linebackers David Conner (83 tackles, 9 sacks) and Marvin Burdette (70 tackles), but there is no real star on that side of the ball, no Tig to speak of. That’s probably their secret.
“Them 11 jokers they got over there playing it” make them so good, Olive Branch coach Scott Samsel said. “They ain’t got no weak spots there.”
Samsel knows what his team must do better than it did in a 17-3 regular-season loss to SP. Saying is easier than doing, of course.
“The first time we played this year, and the second time we played last year, just handling the pressure off the edge was a problem,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure our protection schemes match up a body with a body.”
South Panola has beaten Olive Branch in each of the last two North finals, and the Tigers have won nine straight matchups since 2001. The Conquistadors have averaged 7.2 ppg in those nine losses.
“We don’t know if we’re a great defense,” Pogue said, “but we know we’ve got a chance to be pretty good when we play pretty hard.”