• John Macon Gillespie

Coverage Recap: South Panola 24 | Clinton 23

For this Thursday night showdown, it was the defending 6A state champs versus the perennial 6A powerhouse. When it was all said and done, the powerhouse reigned supreme at Arrow Field. The South Panola Tigers came away with a 24-23 victory over the Clinton Arrows in a crucial SES top 10 showdown right off the bat. This game lived up to all the hype... and then some.

On the opening kickoff, it looked as if Clinton made the first mistake, but were fortunate to recover their own fumble. Then Clinton’s brand new offense got rolling, and I mean rolling. To replace 2016 Mr. Elite Cam Akers, the Arrows looked for two new faces behind center to lead them offensively: Hunter Hulsey and Walker Birchfield. They did not disappoint. Thanks to a one handed big play by Dez Baker and a perfectly executed option play, the Arrows drew first blood with Walker Birchfield calling his own number to punch in a two yard score. The Arrows led 7-0 just four minutes into the ball game.

Then it was 2017 Elite 10 member Patrick Shegog’s turn. He converted two passes on third down and used a pretty display of passing to lead the Tigers downfield inside Clinton’s red zone. After scrambling on third down, Shegog found a wide open John Railey in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The PAT was missed, but the Tigers responded back. The score was 7-6 with 3:56 in the first quarter.

Clinton didn’t have to fix much offensively because of how the previous drive went. They moved the ball well until they got to Tiger territory on 4th and 5, Hulsey’s pass fell incomplete, but a pass interference call kept the drive alive. Once they got close to South Panola’s goal line, Hulsey fooled the Arrows and hit Haven Barnes on a play action pass to extend their lead 14-6 with a couple seconds left in the first quarter.

Once again, The Tigers answered. This time, it came in the form of Barry Flowers. Shegog found him wide open down the sidelines for a 37 yard touchdown strike. No one was within 20 yards of Flowers. The attempt to tie the game with a two point conversion failed, and the Tigers trailed Clinton by two points. The score was 14-12 early in the second quarter.

The first four possessions of the game ended with touchdowns, the Arrows attempted to make that five straight, but failed to do so. They did manage to use the foot of Tucker Barefoot to tack on three points. The Arrow lead was extended 17-12 with 3:17 left in the first half.

In a blink of an eye it seemed like, John Railey was in the end zone for the second time of the night. Shegog found Railey wide open on a wheel route for a 65 yard touchdown and to give the Tigers their first lead of the night. Once again, the Tigers couldn't punch in the two point conversion, but they did lead 18-17 with under two minutes left in the first half. The Arrows ran out of time attempting to put more point on the board in the half. The Tigers led 18-17 at halftime. In that first half, there were no punts and no 4th down stops. Both offenses couldn’t be stopped it seemed like... until the second half.

Both defenses came out of the locker room ready to play. The Arrows were beginning to figure out how to stop South Panola’s passing attack and South Panola was beginning to figure out how to contain Birchfield and Hulsey. The first punt of the night came with 7:31 in the third quarter. A little later, Clinton began to have miscues in the red zone. They couldn't convert on 4th down inside the red zone late in the third quarter. The score was still 18-17 Tigers at that point.

Then came the fourth quarter, where the craziness began. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Hulsey found his man open on the sidelines, he was about to score an Arrow touchdown. The ball popped lose near the goal line and the ball went out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. A promising Arrow drive ended in complete disaster. The Tigers took over 1st and 10.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Arrows were still finding way to maneuver through that quick Tiger defense. On 3rd and 22, Hulsey found Dez Baker across the middle for a big gain. A personal foul penalty tacked on 15 more yards to the play. As a result, the Arrows found themselves inside the Tiger five yard line. Walker Birchfield punched another score in to give his team the lead once again. The score was 23-18 with the failed two point conversion.

Three straight incompletions by Shegog gave Clinton back the ball with a 23-18 lead with 4:53 left to play. South Panola had zero timeouts to freeze the clock. Turns out they didn't need them after all once the Arrows fumbled the ball away at the worst possible time. The Tigers were back in business on Clinton’s 25 yard line. Two plays later, Shegog strolled in the end zone untouched to give his Tigers a 24-23 lead with 3:40 left to play.

The Arrows began to move with a sense of urgency down a point. The Arrows coughed up the ball again on an option play and the Tigers once again pounced on the loose ball. The Tigers milked as much clock as they could, but were forced to punt the ball away.

The Arrows were 87 yards away from the end zone with 52 seconds left in the game. They hit two huge pass plays to get inside Tiger territory in a blink of an eye. They were forced to spike the ball with eight seconds left in the game. They needed Tucker Barefoot to kick a 55 yard field goal to win the game. The ball was snapped, the hold was good, the kicked was up... and about 15 yards short. The wild roller coaster ride ended, and South Panola knocked off the defending 6A state champs 24-23. Ricky Woods earned his 75th win as South Panola head coach and his first win since the 2006 state championship game. Welcome back to Batesville, Ricky Woods.

Players of the game:

South Panola - QB Patrick Shegog

Clinton - WR Dez Baker

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