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October 16, 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. -- While top schools in Florida, California and Texas are battling to be the No. 1 team in their states, Batesville (Miss.) South Panola is busy staking its claim as the No. 1 team in the nation.

The Tigers, in fact, may just be No. 1 with a bullet.

South Panola did what the best team in the country is supposed to do here Friday night: It dominated from start to finish, coming away with a 62-6 victory.

The game was as lopsided as the final score indicates. But unlike many blowout victories, this will go down as a (another) high-quality win on the resume. Tupelo entered the game at 6-1 and has the talent to compete in many state playoffs.

"Early on we were able to establish some things," South Panola head coach Lance Pogue said. "We got the ball moving through the air because we knew they would jam the box. Then when they loosened up, we let Qyen go."

It was the type of victory that showed why RivalsHigh has South Panola ranked ahead of the top teams in Florida (No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas), Texas (No. 3 Trinity) and California (No. 4 Grant and No. 5 Mission Viejo).

Consider the following about South Panola's performance. The Tigers:

  • ran for over 400 yards and threw for over 150 more;
  • scored touchdowns on nine of 10 offensive possessions;
  • sacked Tupelo seven times and forced an interception;
  • made Tupelo punt on eight of its 11 possessions;
  • made Tupelo punt on fourth-and-more-than-10 five times.

    Most of all, the Tigers, just gave the ball to Qyen - as in, star running back Qyendarius Griffin, who rushed for 319 yards and five touchdowns.

    "It felt good to get out there and get the win," Griffin said. "My offensive line did a great job, they always do, getting out and blocking for me. I can only do what I do because of them."

    The breakout game, only Griffin's eighth ever at running back, was predicted by the back.

    "Yeah, I told everyone I would get 300 this week," he said. "It feels good to get it."

    Griffin got there largely with two touchdown runs of 55 and 52 yards in the third quarter. He also had TD runs of 5, 3 and 10 yards.

    But he wasn't the only one who had a big game.

    Quarterback Lee Self threw for more than 150 yards and two touchdowns, both to four-star prospect Nickalos Brassell (32 and 65 yards).

    "We played a really great game," Self said. "I am happy I got to throw some, but it isn't about that. It is about us and this team."

    And it is this team that keeps getting better.

    "We work hard to get better each week," Griffin said. "We like to come out and pick up where we left off the week before."

    The season is far from over but now, more than midway through, it appears that South Panola is positioning itself to take home the school's first-ever national championship.

    "We have played well so far," Pogue said. "We have been blessed to stay healthy and hopefully we can keep it going."

    Arguments from the top teams in Texas, Florida, and California are still being heard, but those states have yet to figure out which is the best in their respective states. That clouds any argument to the top spot nationally.

    Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, figures to have some tough tests in front of it and passed another tonight by beating defending Florida Class 6A champs, Miramar (Fla.) High, 23-7. While this Miramar team is not the one that ended the 2009 season, it is another quality win. A run to a state finals victory will certainly add to the strength of schedule, with potential wins over Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, Lakeland (Fla.) High, or other quality opponents in state.

    What could hold Aquinas' claim back is that the potential champions in Florida's other classifications (including Class 6A Miami (Fla.) Central and Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips; Class 4A Armwood (Fla.) Seffner and West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer; even Class 3A Cocoa (Fla.) High) may be just as good.

    Texas' current top team, Euless (Texas) Trinity, has the chops and the history. The Trojans have won a national title in the last five years and have a coach that knows what it takes to win. What could hold Trinity back is one of the weaker strength of schedules in the country, though its playoff schedule could grow increasingly difficult depending on how the Division I and Division II brackets break down.

    In addition, Katy (Texas) High, Allen (Texas) High and even Abilene (Texas) High - among others - could eventually climb back into the top spot in the Lone Star State.

    California already has two teams in the Top 5 nationally. Sacramento (Calif.) Grant and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High are No. 4 and No. 5 respectively. Winning through the CIF playoffs will add more quality wins for both teams, potentially three more for Mission Viejo but only one for Grant.

    South Panola's road to a state title appears to be easier, but don't be confused it figures to get at a few more tests before the regular season ends as well as in the playoffs with possible matchups against Meridian (Miss.) High and Madison (Miss.) Madison Central.

    But the team, which finished No. 11 in the RivalsHigh Top 100 in 2009, is proving it deserves the top spot.

    "Seeing the team grow from last year to this year is pretty incredible," Self said. "I think this is a pretty special group."

    National championship, special.

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