Any time any high-school football team travels to Batesville, Mississippi, to play the South Panola Tigers, the 2010 USA Today national champions, the prospects of leaving with a victory are usually not very good. In fact, MUS is the only team to defeat the Tigers in Batesville in the last ten years as they won, 21-19, in 2008.
Last Friday night, the Owls returned to South Panola High School as they looked to repeat the success they had two years earlier. Despite having lost their season opener, MUS felt confident that they had a good game plan and could beat the Tigers if they avoided giving up big plays on defense and executed offensively.
Unfortunately, the Owls fought from behind from the outset and could never recover from some early long runs as they fell, 19-7, to see their record fall to 1-2.
Owl coaches came into the game confident that they had a good plan defensively to slow the powerful Tiger ground game. Consequently, they elected to defer after having won the opening coin flip as they hoped to pin the Tigers deep and establish themselves defensively.
However, the MUS defenders never saw the field as Tiger Antonio Conner took the opening kickoff and returned it 98 yards for the touchdown. Just 13 seconds into the contest, the visitors were down, 7-0, after Clayton Sibley’s extra-point.
The Owls tried to answer the intial score, but the South Panola defense showed just how powerful they are as their defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. MUS lost seven yards on their first two possessions and had to punt twice.
The Tigers (2-1) added to their lead late in the first quarter after having taken over at their own 9-yard line following Toby Baker’s second punt. The big play of the drive came again from Conner, who busted through the line for 53 yards and was ultimately pushed out of bounds by safety Alex Dale. From the MUS 32-yard line, Quandez Lee carried eight consecutive times to get down to the 1-yard line, and from there Conner completed the 12-play, 91-yard drive that amassed 5:40. Sibley missed the PAT, but the hosts had increased their advantage to 13-0 headed into the second quarter.
Ladarius Strong added a third touchdown early in the second quarter as he went in from 11-yards out to culminate the 7-play, 86-yard possession. Once again, a big run set the touchdown up as Lee broke free for 51 yards on 3rd-and-1 from the South Panola 35-yard line to get the Tigers close. Tevis Flowers’ two-point run failed, so with 7:25 remaining in the half, the hosts led, 19-0, and many of the home faithful expected the game to turn into a blow-out.
However, the Owls did not quit. Though they did not score in the first half and missed several key opportunities, the coaches felt if they could take advantage of missed opportunities in the second half, they could still get back into the game.
Unfortunately, dropped passes, missed blocks, and a blocked punt all plagued the Owls in the third quarter, but the defense kept the score at 19-0 as they bottled up the Tiger running game and allowed only three first downs and 32 yards in the third quarter.
MUS finally scored early in the fourth quarter as QB Jordan Rodgers found back Fernando Van Hook over the middle, and the junior eluded a Tiger defender and raced into the endzone for the 51-yard touchdown. Gary Wunderlich added the PAT to cut the lead to 19-7 with 7:23 remaining in the game.
But the Owls could not gain another yard the rest of the game as the South Panola defensive line, which included several college commitments, put continual pressure on Rodgers when he was forced to pass. Though the MUS defense held the Tigers to 54 total yards and no points in the second half, the South Panola defense was just too stingy to allow the visitors to get back into the game.
Next Friday night, MUS returns home as they take on Central. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm at Stokes Stadium.