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Long time coming

August 18, 2011

It’s finally here.

West Point and South Panola will kick-off Saturday night in front of what’s sure to be a sellout crowd in West Point. What better way to start the 2011 season then with the reigning back-to-back state champions in 5A and 6A respectively.

For some, there may not be a better match-up.

The Green Wave have been preparing since the Spring in anticipation for this season. Summer workouts and weight training sessions have kept players in shape and no doubt motivated them to turnout another successful season under head coach Chris Chambless.

“It’s one thing I can never complain about them and that’s their work ethic,” he said. “They work hard everyday and know there is a sacrifice to it. If they’re going to step on the field, they’re going to give it 100 percent.”

This off season the Green Wave, who lost 13 starters to graduation in 2010, have had to figure out how to replace their two most effective offensive weapons in quarterback Justin Cox and running back LaKenderick Thomas. Combined, they amassed for over 3,600 yards of offense. The top receiver a year ago Jamrius Tallie is also gone.

Not to worry though, there are plenty of faces, several who have had significant playing time last season, who will be thrust into the spotlight and lead West Point to a possible third straight title for the first time since 1989.

Two of three running backs for 2011 return to the backfield in juniors Tez Lane and Mario Virges. The two combined for over 600 yards and five touchdowns last season. But you can’t forget about sophomore Aries Williams who had just 13 carries as a back-up. The trio gave fans a little preview of West Point’s smash mouth football in last weekends jamboree. Lane at one time broke half a dozen tackles to score a 49-yard touchdown.

Will Harrell returns for his senior year as the most reliable receiver despite not having many receptions his junior campaign, nine for 162-yrds and a touchdown.

Under center will be senior quarterback Dequnetin Spragginns who has been eagerly awaiting his return to lead this explosive offense after spending the last two seasons on the defensive side of the ball where he has been just as effective. He finished with 70 tackles. Spraggins, who took over the offense in the Spring game against Meridian, knows the playbook like the back of his hand and can be extremely effective with his legs as well as his arm as shown in the jamboree against Louisville.

“Leadership is key for us, we play smash mouth football,” Chambless said. “He has a lot of potential and has handled his new role very well.
He knows he won’t have to carry the load this season, he can spread the wealth a little bit.”

No quarterback however can be effective without a little help from the big boys up front and West Point’s most seasoned group. With four seniors coming back, led by starters Jonathan Jones and Romia Wilson, the offensive line is sure to bring the train several times this season.

Defensively, the Green Wave will be young in several key spots especially the secondary who will be without Spraggins and his six interceptions a year ago. Chambless said the defensive line has a lot of potential to put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks while the secondary, all new faces, will have to prove to themselves that they can battle with the best of them.

Defensive coordinator Kendall Pickens said they weren’t satisfied with their performance last weekend, and this week at practice was a chance to get back to work, and it’s been paying off.

“Their intensity this week in practice, it shows,” he said. “They picked it up and are starting to work hard and concentrate more and putting forth more effort to come back as a group.”

The veteran core of line backers, although they haven’t all played together will be the key to the success of the defensive unit. Brandon Edwards returns for his senior year after leading the team in tackles last season with 115. He and junior Freddie Reed combined for nine sacks in 2010. The pair will be joined by a duo of transfers, Charles Heard from Houston and Josh Anderson from Corinth, both bring experience and leadership to the field.

South Panola brings a loaded resume to the table on Saturday. Three No. 1 rankings in different publications which landed them a national Championship, a 15-0 record from last season and nine state titles in football including the last two. Head coach lance Pogue surely knows it’s going to be hard to top that especially with several key losses on both sides of the football that have helped give the Tigers so much success.

Lee Self led the team in passing with over 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns; Qyendairs Griffin rushed for over 2,600 yards and scored 37 touchdowns; and receiver Nickolas Brassell caught for nearly 900 yards with 13 touchdowns. Unfortunately those three are gone, but Pogue has said he doesn’t question the ability of their replacements.

Like the Green Wave, the Tigers have gone with a defensive back and turned him into an offensive weapon. Junior quarterback Tony Conner will take over after an impressive sophomore campaign in the secondary where he finished with 89 tackles. Conner did not throw a pass in 2010, but was effective in the running game amassing over 400 yards on 34 carries with six touchdowns. The Tigers plan to use him as a multi-purpose player offensively.

“He’s good,” Pickens said. “We’re not going to put all of our focus on him, but we’re going to try and do our best to contain him, not just him but the entire offensive threat. We want to force them to run on us.”

That’s probably what the Tigers will have to do. Marcus Dixon and Quandez Lee will take over the running game. The senior and sophomore tag-team combined for over 200 yards and just two touchdowns a year ago, but don’t expect them to be shy. They’ve had plenty of time to mature under Griffin. Offensive line and receivers is the where the Tigers will be most venerable on offense this year.

Although South Panola’s offense may not get the pre-season hype like last year, expect their defense to make some noise. The Tigers bring back Issac Gross and Temario Strong, both Ole Miss commitments to lead the defense. Gross finished with 75 tackles and 10 sacks last season while Strong sacked opposing QB’s 14.5 times while picking up 69 tackles.

Their weakness will be the secondary, as many as five sophomores in the backfield. Look for the Green Wave to try and take advantage of youth every chance they get.

This past June, MaxPreps posted an article listing the top 10 Mississippi dynasties over the past five seasons. South Panola was number one with a 58-2 overall record and at number four was West Point going 47-7.

Numbers can usually predict the outcome of a game, but this a new season and both teams have a clean slate, but after Saturday one will have a blemish. It’s going to be exciting to see who comes out on top.

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