CATEGORY: FOL High School Football
By Bobby Pepper
BATESVILLE Down by only 14 points midway in the fourth quarter, Tupelo still thought it had a chance Friday night to upset top-ranked South Panola.
However, two interceptions killed the Wave's hopes. South Panola converted the turnovers into touchdowns to wrap up a 26-0 victory in a Region 1-5A game.
Toward Sanford ran 25 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns as South Panola improved to 8-0 overall, 4-0 in the region. Tupelo, ranked No.9 in the state by the Associated Press, fell to 6-2 overall, 2-2 region.
Sanford and quarterback Josh Bright, who ran for a touchdown and threw for another, led a South Panola offense that racked up 433 total yards against Tupelo's defense. The Golden Wave had held its past four opponents to less than 200 total yards in each game.
Still, it was the two Wave turnovers in the final quarter that let the Tigers stretch a 14-0 lead in the final two minutes.
"We made some mistakes. We were desparate and we were throwing the ball up when we shouldn't have been," Tupelo coach Johnny Hill said. "But we were going for the win."
Tupelo drove from its 25 to the Tiger 25, its deepest penetration of the game, midway in the final quarter when Demetrius Wright picked off a Luke McAlpin pass at the 4. Wright returned it to the 25 with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left.
It set up a 75-yard drive, ending with Townsend's 1-yard dive with 1:37 left. The two-point conversion run failed.
"It was a close ball game until the end," South Panola coach Ed Stanley said. "But Demetrius Wright came up with a big interception that kept them out of the end zone. That was a big play for us."
The second interception was by all-state linebacker Eddie Strong on the Wave 44. The return and a Tupelo penalty put the ball on the 19 with 1:15 to go. On the first play, Bright hit Hentz with the touchdown pass for the 26-0 lead.
The only turnover South Panola committed was a second quarter interception.
"South Panola's got a great football team," Hill said. "They did a good job of moving the ball on us. They played hard and were ready to win the ball game."
The Tiger defense held Tupelo to 127 total yards, 103 rushing and 24 passing. Tailback Mark Cannon, the Wave's leading rusher, was held to 45 yards on 14 carries.
"Every time we play Tupelo, it's a close game," Strong said. "We knew we had to hit them hard and keep them from scoring."
South Panola scored on the game's opening possession on Sanford's 2-yard run with 7 minutes, 48 seconds left. It capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive that featured eight carries by Sanford. The two-point conversion failed.
A Tupelo fumble on the Tiger 43 led to South Panola's next touchdown, a 38-yard run by Bright. On fourth-and-3, Bright found an opening on a keeper and raced to the end zone.
Sanford, who had 13 first-half carries for 88 yards, made it 14-0 with his two-point conversion run.
After the first two drives ended in a punt and the fumble, the Wave's third march drove to the Tiger 34 before stalling. Kicker John Michael Marlin then missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.
SOUTH PANOLA 26 TUPELO 0
Tupelo 0 0 0 0 - 0
South Panola 6 8 0 12 - 26
SP - Sanford 2 run (pass failed), 7:48.
SP - Bright 38 run (Sanford run), 9:43.
SP - Sanford 1 run (run failed), 1:37.
SP - Hentz 19 pass from Bright (kick blocked), 1:08.