Opposing viewpoint: South Panola

Staff Writer

It was quite possibly the greatest run of dominance in the history of high school football in the state of Mississippi when South Panola won over 100-consecutive games and five-straight state championships from 2003-07 and it was started by Ricky Woods.

The Ackerman native was no stranger to winning before he took the step up to Batesville back in 2003. He had won two state championships with the Ackerman Indians and built a powerhouse Class 2A program. Class 5A was considered a bigger challenge but he made it look easy before leaving the Tigers in great shape for Lance Pogue to win four more championships in his 10 years at the school.

After Pogue left the program in 2016, South Panola was looking for someone to get them back to the stability of state titles as it hasn’t won it since 2012. Woods left Starkville High School after two years having won a state championship with his fourth different team in his career and was set to become the Eupora head coach before that job fell through. He ultimately ended up back in Batesville coaching the program that put him on the map.

Chris Jones replaced Woods two seasons ago and has followed the coach’s career since his high school days. He still talks to him routinely now.

“He’s a legend and he’s kind of one of those guys who you want to pattern yourself after as a coach,” Jones said. “He’s been successful everywhere he’s been and that’s a sign of a really good football coach.”

South Panola’s program is not what it once was as it enters the playoffs on Friday night against the Yellow Jackets. After losing just 11 games over the course of 11 years from 2004-2015, they’ve lost 15 alone in the last three seasons and Woods is 16-9 in his first two seasons back. This year, the Tigers have struggled through a 7-5 campaign, but two of their losses came to the top two teams in Class 6A in Brandon and Horn Lake and they’ve also lost games to Tennessee powerhouse Memphis University and Region 1 No. 2 seed Oxford.

Woods is back to his roots and committed 100 percent to running the football. The Tigers have accounted for 3,381 yards on the ground this season led by one of the state’s top junior running backs Janari Dean, who has 267 carries for 1,825 yards and 17 touchdowns as the top rusher in Class 6A. Jones also cautioned about Kanoda Lewis, who will work out of the backfield as a quarterback running the Wildcat or as a receiver.

“They’re not the South Panola of old, but they’re still a good team,” Jones said. “They’ve got some really good kids. They’ve got a running back that can play and another kid that’s a slot receiver and Wildcat quarterback. You can tell that they’re well-coached and they understand the tradition at South Panola.”