By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
Leading up to its game on Oct. 18, the Tupelo Golden Wave were undefeated, heading into a matchup at defending Class 6A and 10-time state champion, the South Panola Tigers.
The sudden resurgence of the Wave led to much discussion that week about Tupelo breaking a losing streak to the Tigers dating back to 2001.
Now Tupelo (12-1) gets another shot at South Panola (13-1), hosting the Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday. Now there is very little talk about 2001, and more about the chance to play for the Class 6A State Championship with a victory.
“The last time we played them, we weren’t perfect,” Tupelo head coach Trent Hammond said. “And that’s what leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
But how close did Tupelo come in that Oct. 18 contest, which South Panola won 14-8?
Tupelo scored on its very first possession, a 50-yard drive that resulted in a Reed Bigham 45-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Then the teams traded turnovers, with a South Panola interception setting up a one-play, 6-yard drive for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead for the Tigers.
“We turned the ball over three times that game,” Hammond said. “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how many times South Panola turned the ball over that game, and not talk about our turnovers.”
The third quarter of the contest had its decisive moments, beginning with the first play from scrimmage. There, Tigers running back Darrell Henderson took a simple hand-off to the right, bouncing it into an 80-yard scoring run.
“We missed a tackle, and should have been containing better,” Hammond said.
Despite the score, Tupelo’s confidence was growing in the half, and the Wave later scored on a 10-play drive that reach as deep as the Tigers 19-yard line before Bigham hit a 43-yard field goal. The drive was highlighted by a 20-yard pass from Daniel Bristow to Rodney McIntosh in the end zone, but the play was negated by a motion penalty.
The final quarter was mostly played in the middle of the field, with a Wave possession in Tigers territory resulting in a fumble with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining. South Panola took a safety on the next-to-the-last play of the game.
“They had more success offensively than we did that game, but I think we surprised them with how hard we played,” Hammond said. “The team is excited for this game, and ready to see where the chips fall.”