Vikings put scare into Panola|[08/31/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 31, 2007

Win No. 61 proved to be a lot harder than South Panola expected.

A gallant effort by Warren Central made the nationally ranked and four-time defending Class 5A champions work all the way until the final seconds before putting away the Vikings 31-18 before an estimated 5,500 fans in the 43rd playing of the Red Carpet Bowl Thursday night.

South Panola needed 261 yards rushing and two touchdowns from workhorse tailback Darius Barksdale before new coach Lance Pogue could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The victory was South Panolas 61st straight.

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They (Warren Central) played a really good game. They did a good job getting in the gaps and making tackles. Big No. 55 (Bennie Peoples) can play, said Barksdale, an Ole Miss recruit who earned his yardage on 31 punishing carries.

You dont coach great tailbacks, WC coach Curtis Brewer said. Our plan was to make them earn everything they got. He (Barksdale) was able to get the 15-yard runs but we were able to get to him after that.

Barksdale had only two runs of more than 20 yards. The longest was a 40-yarder on the second play in the third quarter as South Panola (1-0) tried to re-establish control of the game after WC had cut in half a 14-0 deficit to 14-7 right before the half.

Two plays after the long run, Barksdale scored from 2 yards out to make it 21-7, following David Renfroes kick with 10:13 left in the quarter.

A 50-yard kickoff return by Joe Harris gave the Vikings the ball at the Tigers 40 but they could not go anywhere. A 33-yard punt by Heath Carroll pinned the Tigers back to their own 2. On the next play, Peoples dropped Barksdale for a loss which resulted in a Viking safety. The score made it 21-9 with 8:35 left in the third quarter.

I think we played really good, Peoples said. I think we gave them more than what they expected. They had us confused early in the game, but then we adjusted.

On the free kick, WCs Ben Wau Caples took the kick, made a couple of darting moves near the pile, and outran the coverage for a 70-yard touchdown return. Caples had 142 yards on three returns, which included a 25- and 47-yarder in the first half. The score made it 21-15 with 8:17 left in the quarter. A bad snap prevented the Vikings from pulling to within five points on the PAT kick.

WC got the ball back with 3 minutes left in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead but had to punt after three plays. South Panolas Xavier Lee returned the boot 27 yards to the Viking 23 but a 15-yard clipping penalty backed the Tigers up to the WC 48. The flag was one of 11 for 102 yards against the Tigers.

Three runs by Barksdale gained 28 yards to the WC 20. A 14-yard run by Justin Market set up a 34-yard field goal by Renfroe that made it 24-15 with 11:23 to play.

A Tiger fumble, their second turnover of the game, had Vikings fans excited with nearly seven minutes left. A 13-yard pass from Keaton Sanders to Josh Perry got WC to the Panola 18. A 3-yard completion to Caples and a pass interference call got the Vikings inside the 10. The drive eventually stalled and the Vikings settled for a 26-yard field goal by Jared Thames that made it 24-18 with 4:50 to play.

The Tigers showed why they are champions by putting together a game-sealing 62-yard drive over the next three mintues. A 26-yard run by Barksdale got the ball to the WC 2. He then scored two plays later on a 1-yard plunge with 1:50 to go in the game. Renfroes kick made it 31-18.

They did a good job of pulling their linemen and creating space for Barksdale, Peoples said. But I think this game is going to help us a lot. Well be ready the next time in the playoffs.

Brewer was very proud of his young team.

We kept fighting until the end. You cant say enough about the kids, our coaches and our student body. They stood up and believed in this team. I have to commend our coaches who prepared this team so well. They put in a lot of long hours, but they got us ready for what was a tremendous challenge. They prepared a game plan for us to win the game, Brewer said.

South Panola was debuting a new offense under Pogue. Instead of the traditional veer-option attack they have run for more than 20 years, the Tigers went with a Pro-I set bent on mixing short passes with the hard running of Barksdale. The combination worked for 375 yards in total offense, including 319 rushing.

We took their best shot while were trying to work on this new offense. Its more multiple because it fits the style of our quarterback, Pogue said.

Renfroe capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive on a 3-yard TD off a bootleg early in the second quarter. Market then scored on a 12-yard run with 4:05 left in the second to up the lead to 14-0 after Renfroes kick.

WC used a 47-yard kick return by Caples, along with his 35-yard catch and run, to set up Joel Forbes 1-yard TD run with 1:31 left before halftime.