For true fans of football, like myself, it’s hard not to love the South Panola Tigers.
I made the trip to West Point last Saturday night with Jim Beckett, of Bruce, and his son-in-law-to-be Chad King, of Petal, to see the South Panola experience first hand.
Rumors were flying around the day before the game that it may be a sellout and entry into the stadium may be difficult if you didn’t get there at least an hour before kickoff.
We did exactly that, after the required visit to Anthony’s for one of the best steaks in Mississippi. I could hear the pains of Dr. Bruce Longest from 60 miles away as he had to stay close to home due to hospital duties.
We didn’t get far down the road from Anthony’s before the traffic came to a standstill. After some encouragement from me and Chad, Jim left the main thoroughfare and we created some parking on a neighborhood street that required a little walking to get to the stadium.
We got in 45 minutes prior to kickoff and the home side bleachers, that reportedly sat nearly 4,500 were completely packed with people standing up both sides and all the way across the back of the top row. We spotted a few holes in the visitor side, which was supposed to seat almost 1,500. We convinced a security guard to escort us across the field and slid into an opening in the bleachers that soon overflowed.
The atmosphere had the feel of an SEC game more so than a high school game. The home crowd was extremely vocal and the visitors from Batesville were calm and confident.
Why shouldn’t they be?
The Tigers are coming off a season in which they were declared high school national champions and won the school its ninth state championship.
It’s not their winning tradition that I find so appealing, however. It’s the way they do it.
There’s nothing tricky about the way South Panola plays. They line up and try to run over you, and throughout the past decade they’ve done exactly that to almost every team they’ve played, including some of the best in the nation.
West Point, who has a lot of tradition itself with seven state championships, played as hard as you could for three quarters, but the muscle of South Panola began to take its toll.
Run left. Run right. Run up the middle. That was the South Panola offense.
I watched the Tigers take what seemed like a heavyweight battle and turn it into a blowout in only a few minutes.
They were bigger. They were stronger. They were impressive.
I watched Calhoun native Jamie Easley getting after the ferocious Tiger defense.
I watched his son C.J. play a game of touch football on the sideline at halftime just like he used to do at Calhoun City games.
I watched the best high school football program Mississippi has ever seen do what it does best – hard nose football.
Filing out of the stadium with what I estimated at more than 8,000 people it was obvious it was just another Friday night for South Panola fans.
It was a great experience for Jim, Chad and me.
You may email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org