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October 13, 2010
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Tupelo (Miss.) High coach David Bradberry admits this is not just another week.
Of course, how could it be? It's not every week that your school gets to go up against the nation's No. 1 team, Batesville (Miss.) South Panola, which just happens to be your biggest rival.
"I don't think you can approach this one as business as usual," he said. "Yeah, it counts for one win or one loss in the standings just like the rest, but anytime South Panola comes to town, they bring much more to the table than anyone else."
This week, the Tigers will be bringing Fox Sports cameras.
The game is the television network's regional game of the week as well as the RivalsHigh National Game of the Week.
South Panola is treating this as any other week. As the most successful team in Mississippi for the last decade, it is used to being a big deal. It's something it has learned to deal with.
"We cannot get wrapped up in all of the hype and attention," South Panola head coach Lance Pogue said. "We have a very mature team and we are taking this game like any other. I know it sounds like coach speak, but I have not had to keep this group's attention. They are focused."
The eye of the Tiger is staring at the school's first-ever national championship.
"Our team has proved it time and again in Mississippi," Pogue said. "We have started taking on teams outside the state and we are focused on earning the respect that some other teams have earned by taking the same path."
Tupelo, for its part, appears to be the next team in the way. It knows it has its work cut out for it.
"When you go look at it, they have won something like eight in a row here," Bradberry said. "We can't just expect to outwork them for one week of practice and beat them. What South Panola does year round is what makes them great."
Pogue, of course, will hear nothing of it.
"We play this game every year and each time it is a test for us," he said. "It is a big game in our division and a big game for playoff seedings."
The Tigers also think this game will test them come playoff time.
"We take pride in playing on the road," Pogue said. "We make a hostile environment into fun. We get each team's best and each fanbase gives us its best. It is loud and we like it."
Taking on each team's best each week is one of the things that Bradberry marvels at when he talks about South Panola.
"Dealing with the pressure every week would be tough," he said. "Alabama had won 20 games in a row or whatever it was, but eventually the competition caught up to them. That hasn't happened with South Panola."
The opposing coach appreciates the talent and work ethic of the Tigers.
"The talent they have is amazing," Bradberry said. "They will have a 2,500-yard rusher each year. That's almost a given. What you don't see is that they probably have two other kids who could get 2,500 yards if the starter went down."
The success at South Panola is all the team knows. It is part of the tradition that makes them great.
"Our first title was in 1993," Pogue said. "Our kids were either born then or after, so they only know success and work towards it. Their kinfolk started it here and they do not want to be the class that doesn't continue it."
If Tupelo is going to score the upset, Bradberry knows it will take a perfect evening.
"I saw Meridian beat South Panola in the state finals a few years back," he said. "They had good athletes and a perfect game plan. They executed as well as they could but still needed a few bounces to go their way. We will need to do that too.
"Any team that wants to beat South Panola is going to need to get a couple lucky bounces."
It seems to be a common refrain in Mississippi.
"All the coaches have seen all the same film on them," Bradberry said. "It is the intensity that they play with you can not duplicate. You know you need to slow them down on defense and tackle well. You know you have to hope to find a gap or two on offense and score points. But there isn't a magic pill that makes you able to do that."