Most followers of 1A football expected the Wolves of Puckett to make the familiar drive over to Jackson to play in another state title game.
Despite winning 14 games without having to overcome a second half deficit, the Wolves got all they wanted and then some from North State representative Calhoun City.
Sophomore quarterback J.R. Jennings led Calhoun City to a 14-13 halftime lead thanks in large part to a 91 yard drive that culminated in a short touchdown toss that had Wolve fans more than a little concerned throughout the intermission.
Calhoun City's momentum carried over to the 3rd quarter as the offense mounted another gem of a drive going 74 yards in 13 plays to take a 21-13 lead.
The Puckett offense woke up and scored on back to back possessions to roar back out in front 25-21.
J.R. Jennings showed the poise of an upperclassman as he led the Calhoun all the way down to a first and goal opportunity with under a minute to play, but could get no closer.
The Wolves escaped as Jennings lost his footing as he looked to evade a pass rusher on a fourth and goal play.
Not to be outdone, Meridian and South Panola faced off in the 5A state title game and the outcome remained in doubt until the game's final play.
Meridian won the toss and elected to defer, but the Wildcat offense had the better of things in the first quarter. Neither team could get on the board and the game remained scoreless after one period of play.
A promising 2nd quarter Meridian drive ended as Marvin Burdette met quarterback Tyler Russell in the hole on an option keeper that drew a collective gasp from the stands.
Russell had little time to gather himself because just two plays later, defensive back Khairi Usher recovered a South Panola fumble inside the Tiger 20.
It took Meridian just three plays to turn the turnover into points as the visiting Wildcats went up 7-0.
The 'Cat defense held and Meridian seemed to be on the verge of completely taking control after forcing the Tigers to punt.
With 5:32 to play in the first half, J.J. Harbin fumbled the David Renfroe punt and the Tigers were back in business deep in Meridian territory.
Behind the inspired running of an ailing Nick Parker and a pair of Xavier Lee catches, the five time defending champs tied the game at seven all.
The third quarter featured great play by both teams as the 5A powers were finished feeling each other out and were ready to throw the power shots.
Meridian marched down the field going 70 yards in 12 plays to take a 14-7 lead on Tyler Russell's 40th TD pass of the season.
South Panola answered right back with the big blow coming on a 30 yard connection from Renfroe to sophomore sensation Nickloss Brassell. The pass set the Tigers up deep in Meridian territory. The scoring drive ended as Nick Parker barrelled in from four yards out.
The Tiger coaching staff dialed up a little trickeration on the ensuing kickoff and appeared to have recovered an onsides kick, but the initial call was overturned and Meridian set up shop at the South Panola 48 yard line.
Following a false start, an incompletion and a questionable holding call, Meridian found themeselves behind the chains on a 2nd and 25.
On perhaps the best passing play of the night, Russell dialed up fellow Mississippi State commitment Chris Smith. Smith was able to corral his own tipped ball and fall forward to earn the first down on a 26 yard gain.
Four plays later Meridian had retaken the lead, but the extra point try was no good and the drama continued to build.
The stage appeared to be set for the Tigers to take advantage, but oddly enough they could not.
Following a nifty rollout pass for a touchdown, David Renfroe pulled his own extra point attempt wide left which left the score at 20 all.
After a trade of possessions, Tyler Russell led his offense on the field in hopes of some last minute heroics and a place in high school football history.
Russell connected with Hamp Glover on a slant route on which Glover broke a tackle and pushed deep into South Panola territory before being run down just inside field goal range.
Meridian took a a couple of shots at the endzone, but the Tiger defense proved ready and nearly picked off a pass around the goal line on 3rd down.
Wildcat kicker Jett Miller took to the field looking to atone for his miss earlier on the PAT.
South Panola head man Lance Pogue, realizing he would be unable to take his timeouts with him, burned all three in an attempt to ice the Meridian kicker and force overtime.
The ice job worked as Miller's 30-yard attempt sailed just right of the goalposts.
As a dejected Wildcat team approached the sidelines, the South Panola crowd roared to life with the ghosts of championships past leading the way.
With the momentum clearly in their favor, the Tigers lined up on defense to begin the overtime period.
A quick slant to Chris Smith had Meridian knocking on the door once again. A play later the 'Cats were into the endzone and ahead 26-20.
Apparently the frigid winter chill gave Lance Pogue's ice job an extended life. Painfully, the generally reliable Jett Miller missed his second extra point of the night and third consecutive kick.
Down 26-20, South Panola was just 10 yards and extra point away from winning their 90th straight game and sixth consecutive state championship.
After an incompletion, Nick Parker was stacked up after a short gain.
On 3rd down sophomore Jacoby Eason made perhaps the play of his life. Eason broke containment and tracked down David Renfore and dumped him all the way back at the 20 yard line.
Facing a fourth and goal from the 20, David Renfroe rolled to his left and had trouble finding a receiver. As he doubled back to his right, Jacoby Eason reached out and got just enough of Renfroe's foot to send the senior signal caller to the ground.
As several of Renfroe's teammates joined him on the ground in disbelief, the gasp from the Tigers' sideline was replaced by the triumphant mayhem of the Meridian faithful.
Fans on both sides of the field turned and looked at each other in what can only be described as a surreal moment.
The third longest winning streak in the history of American high school football was now history it's self.
Students cheered, moms cried, some dads too.
In one of the most touching moments of the celebration senior wideout J.J. Harbin climbed the fence, made his way through security and found his family.
The tears were flowing long before Harbin got to his mother, but once the two embraced J.J. absolutely let it loose.
A family friend looked on unsure if he should talk or join the group hug. Moments later J.J. and the gentleman's eyes met.
Harbin was unable to say a word. He simply pointed towards his ring finger and continued to get lost in the emotion of the moment.
Somewhere on the field Tyler Russell was making the rounds with reporters. Once his duty was done he joined the mass of humanity clad in white who were dodging their own shoulder pads in helmets to hug each other.
Khairi Usher found his father in the throng of Meridian fans pushing towards the rail in an attempt to get closer to the celebration.
Usher's words were simple. "We did it! We did it!"