By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
BATESVILLE – The excitement around the Tupelo Golden Wave football team these days is a simmering pot waiting to explode.
The team is undefeated at this point in the season for the first time since 1990. A win today against Division 1-6A foe South Panola – for the first time since 2001 – would blow the top off the season.
“This game neither makes nor breaks our season,” Tupelo first-year head coach Trent Hammond said. “Either way this game goes, we’ve got to line up and play someone else next Friday.”
But tonight, Tupelo does line up against South Panola, winner of 10 state championships, and perennial standard-bearer for Mississippi football throughout the nation. Kickoff for this contest in Batesville is 7 p. m.
“We’re just trying to think of this as another game,” Tupelo senior running back Quinn Tiggs said. “In other games against South Panola, one big play, we have dropped our heads, and it’s taken off from there.
“I really like how things are going for us this season, and hopefully we can keep rolling.”
Tupelo (7-0, 3-0) certainly appears to be rolling, turning around a 4-7 record last year into a current first-place tie in 1-6A with the Tigers (7-1, 3-0). But South Panola, the defending Class 6A state champion, consumes teams on a roll.
Through 2001, the series saw the Wave just a game below .500 against the Tigers at 7-8. That mark is now 7-19.
“South Panola is a powerhouse and everyone measures their season against them,” said Tupelo assistant coach Fred Hadley, the only Tupelo alum on the staff. “To me, making the playoffs is most important.
“I would tell the guys that win or lose, we could see South Panola again. But beating South Panola would mean a whole lot.”
Tupelo comes into the contest off a 26-13 win over Southaven. In that game, instead of its usual spread offense, Tupelo only threw the ball seven times and called nothing but running plays the entire second half.
South Panola is coming off a 49-0 victory against Hernando. The Tigers are averaging 251.6 rushing yards per game, as compared to Tupelo at 228.6.
“This is a great opportunity for us in a big environment,” Hammond said. “But it’s only a regular-season game.”