By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
TUPELO – Darrell Hadley was six years old the last time Tupelo High claimed a win against South Panola on the gridiron.
Tonight, Hadley and his teammates have a chance to end the Tigers’ 11-game winning streak in the series. Kickoff at Golden Wave Stadium for the Division 1-6A rivals is set for 7 p.m.
Ending the streak “is real important to us,” said Hadley, a senior wide receiver. “We’ve got to think smart and keep our heads up and we’ll be all right.”
Tupelo will need to play smart football against a South Panola offense that has added a new dimension to their game plan.
Known mainly for their aggressive rushing attack during their run of seven state championships in eight seasons, this Tigers team has an equal threat through the air with quarterback Rip Kirk.
Kirk has thrown for nine touchdowns and just under 1,000 yards to lead South Panola, which is ranked No. 4 statewide in the latest Associated Press poll.
“He’s one of the best they’ve ever had,” said Tupelo coach David Bradberry. “It’s not a one- dimensional team anymore.”
The Tigers (5-2, 3-0) haven’t gotten away from their tradition of running the ball either. Ladarius Strong and Darrell Henderson lead the ground game that averages 143 yards per game.
South Panola also boasts a big offensive line, led by 6-4, 305-pound Mississippi State commit Deon Mix.
Add those factors together, and Tupelo’s consistent defense will get its biggest challenge of the season to date.
‘Pick your poison’
“It’s the same ole, same ole,” Wave defensive coordinator Lamar Aldridge said. “They’ve got some big guys that can move and you can’t put too many guys into the running game.
“You kind of pick your poison when you play them.”
Hadley and the rest of the Tupelo offense will tangle with five-star prospect Antonio Conner, who leads his team with 49 tackles and two interceptions.
A victory over the Tigers would put Tupelo (3-4, 1-2) back into the thick of the playoff hunt.
The Wave’s last win over South Panola was a 17-14 decision in Batesville in the 2001 season.