By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
MADISON – It seems every time Tupelo steps off a bus or out of a locker room, it has to convert people into believing it can win football games.
Count the Madison Jaguars as baptized.
On soggy turf, Tupelo danced and powered its way into the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs, downing the home-standing Jaguars 27-15.
“We knew, but we’re trying to let everyone else know this team is a little bit special,” first-year Tupelo coach Trent Hammond said. “Our identity is to find a way to win.”
Tupelo (12-1) has battled its way to a position just one win from Jackson and the 6A state championship game. Tupelo will host South Panola – a 20-6 winner over Starkville – next Friday.
Getting to that semifinal contest saw Tupelo deliver what’s become familiar this season – a team effort.
The Wave gave up close to 300 yards of offense to Madison Central (9-4), but only allowed two touchdowns.
The first score of the game was a bit unconventional, with Central trapping Tupelo running back Quinn Tiggs in the end zone for a safety after a punt to the 1-yard line for a 2-0 lead in the first quarter.
Taking advantage of a Jaguars mistake themselves, Tupelo turned a fumble into a 22-yard TD pass from Daniel Bristow to Deamio Garmon early in the second period. Tupelo made that lead stand up for a 6-2 halftime lead.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, first with linebacker Justin Gilleylen falling on a fumble in the end zone for Tupelo. Central fought back with a 41-yard scoring pass to Trace Hamby, and the teams entered the fourth quarter with Tupelo up 13-8.
Tupelo iced the game in the final quarter, beginning early in the period as Tiggs capped a 12-play drive with a 4-yard run. The Wave followed that with a 16-yard run by Tiggs after a 10-play possession for a 27-8 lead.
“When it came down to it, our offense made two drives,” Hammond said. “And our defense played well as a whole.”
Central added a 29-yard scoring pass to Trey Smith with 1 minute, 33 seconds to play.
“Tupelo just outplayed us in all phases of the game,” Centra coach Bobby Hall said. “Tupelo’s defense is very opportunistic, and better on the field than on tape.”