By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
TUPELO – Points and seating should be at a premium tonight at Tupelo High School.
That is where the Tupelo Golden Wave football team will look to continue a storied season against perhaps the most storied football program in Mississippi, hosting the South Panola Tigers in semifinal action of the Class 6A playoffs in a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“We’ve had some tough football games the past few weeks, but I think our team thinks they can play with South Panola,” said Tupelo first-year head coach Trent Hammond, who has guided the Wave to a 12-1 record after the team went 4-7 a season ago. “I think the team remembers that losing feeling from the regular season, and I think that helps you be that much better in the long run.”
Tupelo comes in against South Panola on a five-game winning streak, fresh off a convincing 27-15 victory over Madison Central, a team that had played in this semifinal game five straight seasons.
Tupelo’s only loss this season was an Oct. 18, 14-8 setback to South Panola.
“I remember the kids competing very hard, and being disappointed in the outcome,” said Tupelo offensive coach Mike Davis of the first South Panola matchup. “We need to go out and play our best, our absolute best Friday.”
The Wave have hung their hats on a quick defense led by inside linebackers James Gilleylen and Ashton Wedel, with the team only allowing 10.4 points per game for the season, and 14 per game in the playoffs. The all-purpose Quinn Tiggs leads the Tupelo offense with 1,240 yards rushing and 558 receiving, with quarterback Daniel Bristow having thrown for 1,540 yards while completing 63 per cent of his passes.
South Panola (13-1) comes off a 20-6 victory over Starkville, and is only allowing 4.5 points per game in the playoffs while allowing 13.1 per game for the entire season.
“The first game was hard-fought,” South Panola head coach Lance Pogue said. “We’ve been a really good defensive team, but we haven’t been a flashy team.
“There’s no debate, we’ve been on this stage before, and that helps us in some areas. On the other side of the fence, Tupelo should have a lot of excitement and emotion being in this position for the first time, and we have to withstand that.”
The Tigers are led offensively by running back Darrell Henderson with 1,966 yards for the season. Quarterback Rip Kirk has thrown for 1,687 yards while completing 48 percent. Henderson hit Tupelo for 216 yards in the previous meeting.