[rl]BATESVILLE, Miss. - During pregame warmups as Batesville (Miss.) South Panola prepared to host Tupelo (Miss.), the pressures of maintaining a 67-game winning streak were tough to siphon from the faces of the home Tigers. However, the confidence that such a win streak inspires was as clear as day.
Tupelo came into Friday night's game riding a five-game winning streak behind the play of its trio of star skill players. Kenneth Davis, a 6-foot-0 215-pound three-star running back, is committed to Ole Miss. Chris Garrett, a member of Rivals.com's 100 to watch in the class of 2009, recently committed to play quarterback at Mississippi State. Meanwhile junior wide receiver Chad Bumphis has proven to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the state this season.
Unfortunately for Tupelo, talented skill players don't even scratch the surface for South Panola. South Panola is a team with so much depth that it's nearly impossible to separate the superstars from the scrubs with the eyeball test, a rarity in high school football. Yet despite the loads of talent on the field, the night belonged to one player: Darius Barksdale.
Barksdale, a four-star athlete committed to Ole Miss, is listed on Rivals.com as an athlete but after his performance Friday night, there is no doubt he can be a star for the Rebels at the tailback position.
On the night, Barksdale rushed for 286 yards on 31 carries, scoring on touchdown runs of 11, 11 and 29 yards. Throw in a two-point conversion, a 35-yard tailback pass and a significant number of snaps at safety on defense and you've got a pretty good night for a guy who spent much of pregame warmups throwing up.
In a 22-9 win, Barksdale got his yards in a variety of ways displaying a deep arsenal of skill sets.
He showed he has breakaway speed by bouncing a long run in the first half of about 60 yards. In the second half he added a 55-yarder to his tally. But despite the long runs, Barksdale showed no hesitation to fight for the tough yards inside. He has tremendous feet and balance that he uses to absorb contact and keep his feet. Rarely on any of his 31 carries was Barksdale brought down by a solo tackler. He also showed good vision in finding the cutback lanes and feeling the right times to bounce a play while putting his head down and grinding out yardage when necessary.
The supporting cast: While Barksdale had the individual performance of the night, a big reason for his success was the domination of the South Panola offensive line. Cameron Wagner and Ole Miss commit Quin Sanford led an offensive line that was extremely physical and tenacious. The group was opening up holes, finishing blocks downfield and generally setting the tone for an extremely physical South Panola team.
Another piece of the puzzle for the successful run-game was fullback Rueben Corley. Despite discovering a broken bone in his hand at halftime, Corley was leading the way for Barksdale all night long as an athletic physical lead blocker.
On the other side of the ball, all three of the Tupelo stars struggled all night long and the South Panola defense took turns making play after play.
0 for 3: Ken Davis was held to only 35 yards on 15 carries. While his numbers were paltry, Davis still showed that he has some good tools. The big back is a north-south runner who looked to have good speed but never could get a crease against a speedy pursuing Tiger defense.
Chris Garrett also showed some promising plays but on the whole he really struggled. He showed a strong arm but completed only 9 off 19 passes for 105 yards. Where he really struggled was negotiating the pass rush. The Mississippi State commit is best suited for an offense where he can sit back and get the ball out quickly. Garrett showed that he struggles trying to improvise with his feet and looked uncomfortable in the pocket against a heavy rush. He made two poor decisions in the first half in which he threw balls up for grabs. One landed safely to the turf the other resulted in an interception. In the second half, Garrett became preoccupied with the impending rush and had trouble locating receivers downfield.
Garrett also didn't get a lot of help from his star receiver, Chad Bumphis. The two couldn't hook up on a few occasions in what looked to be some miscommunication or poor timing on pass routes. Bumphis, who had come into the game as potentially the most dangerous threat on the field, was limited to one catch for zero yards. The 5-11 speedster had trouble finding any holes in the secondary and was very preoccupied with the hard hitting defensive backfield.
Take your pick: On the defensive end for South Panola, take your pick of the playmakers.
In the first half, safety Bud Barksdale was all over the field, nearly picking a ball off and making several tackles to keep Ken Davis at bay. Charles Corley helped anchor a physical, dominating defensive line. Joshua Shipp, Marvin Burdette, David Conner and Justin Carothers completed a hard-hitting group of linebackers that harassed Garrett all night long.
The tradition continues: South Panola is now at 68 consecutive wins and counting. Unfortunately for the rest of Mississippi, there's plenty coming back.
Quarterback David Renfroe is athletic and effective and is only a junior. He threw the ball well on the run was creative in buying time in the pass game.
Perhaps the next superstar for the Tigers is a sophomore running back playing in the shadows of Darius Barksdale. When Nicholas Parker has stepped in this season to spell Barksdale in the backfield, the Tigers haven't missed a beat. The youngster has all the tools you want out of a tailback and should shine next season as the starter.
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