By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
WEST POINT – It was hyped for weeks, and for good reason.
West Point and South Panola brought a combined 16 state championships to the field Saturday night in the season opener for both teams. The Green Wave and Tigers had also each captured two consecutive state crowns.
But in a playoff atmosphere, it was South Panola experiencing a familiar outcome down the stretch.
The Tigers used a solid ground game and wore down West Point 37-17 in front of an overflow crowd at Hamblin Stadium estimated at nearly 8,000.
West Point committed two turnovers in the final six minutes that led to 13 points for South Panola, ending the Green Wave’s shot at snapping what is now a 28-game winning streak.
“We’re not going to do anything but get better and I will take my guys to war with anyone,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless. “We’re gonna play hard, work on our mistakes and get better. Football is football and bad things are gonna happen. But nobody put their head down and everybody kept their heads up.”
The first half resembled a heavyweight title fight, with West Point responding every time the Tigers took the lead.
West Point tied the game twice in the opening half on a Dequinton Spraggin’s 12-yard scoring toss to Mario Virges and an 84-yard kickoff return by junior Tez Lane.
But South Panola threw the last punch of the first half when Tevis Flowers hit Ron Taylor for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 27 ticks left in the half.
“It was like a boxing match (in the first half),” said South Panola coach Lance Pogue. “That’s a great team (West Point) over there and it was two great programs going at it and playing good, hard-nosed football.
“We felt like if we could get a lead in the second half then we would have a bit more depth than them. I thought we did that but my hat is off to West Point. They played extremely hard and they are in the same boat as us with a bunch of young and inexperienced players that will get better.”
South Panola racked up 301 yards of offense while limiting West Point to just 204 yards. The Tigers got 202 yards of that total on the ground, mainly with senior Marcus Dixon and Antonio Conner. Dixon finished with 23 carries for 91 yards and three touchdowns while Conner had 12 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown (all in the first half).
West Point did manage 180 yards rushing, led by Spraggins’ 71 yards rushing and the touchdown pass to Virges.
“There is still a lot of year left and it’s a long season,” said Chambless. “Hopefully there are 14 more games left for us. We are gonna regroup, keep playing West Point football and keep on getting better.”