Choctaw County sees third round encounter with North Panola

Choctaw County coach Ben Ashley
Staff Writer

Big-time football is back in Choctaw County.

Friday night, the Choctaw County Chargers (10-2) host North Panola (12-0) at 7 p.m. in the third round of the Class 3A playoffs. A trip to the North State title game is at stake.
Back before Ackerman and Weir High Schools merged to form Choctaw County, important contests on the gridiron were a yearly occurrence. Since becoming the Chargers, Choctaw County has found postseason success a little tougher to obtain, but under first-year head coach Ben Ashley, here is Choctaw County still making noise as the football season comes down to its final couple of weeks.

“The folks outside of our locker room are surprised by all this, but I promise you our kids aren’t,” Ashley said. “This is Choctaw County. For a long time, Choctaw County kids have played in big football games. It just so happens that it has been a while, but these kids have uncles and brothers and cousins and daddies that have grown up in Choctaw County and understand. It’s almost in their DNA that we’re supposed to be playing this time of year.”

The Chargers were able to get to this point on the back of a stingy defense and a talented rushing offense. Choctaw County’s defense has allowed more than 14 points in a game just three times all season. Couple that with a ground game that has averaged 295.6 yards per game and you start to get the picture of how the Chargers rolled to the Class 3A, Region 4 championship and then dominated in a pair of playoff games over Independence and Ruleville Central.

While Choctaw County has racked up win after win, Ashley says his Chargers haven’t been a group to become complacent or satisfied.

“Our kids are so ready to play football," Ashley said. "I can’t even begin to express how focused our kids are. Sure, this is uncharted territory for us, but for our kids, it’s all about playing the next football game. That’s where their mindset is at right now.”

For the Chargers to keep playing football into next week though, they’ll have to overcome perhaps their biggest test to date. Not only is North Panola undefeated, the Cougars have remained unbeaten in incredibly impressive fashion. North Panola has out-scored opponents 527-129 this season.

Ashley says the biggest trouble the Cougars present is a defensive front that can shut down even the best offenses.

“When you put the film in, the first thing that stands out is their defensive line,” Ashley said. “Their defensive line is as good as anybody’s and that’s what sticks out.
“We’ve told our kids all week that the most important thing we’ve got to do this week is make sure we get the four defensive linemen blocked and go from there. Obviously, you want to try to block them all, but if we don’t get those four guys blocked, we’re going to have trouble all night long.”

If the Chargers can handle North Panola’s defensive line, there’s a good chance those in Choctaw County can eat their Thanksgiving turkey next Thursday in anticipation of a North State title contest the following Friday night.

Winning football is back in Choctaw County and the Chargers are determined to take their season to even greater heights, just like the days of old.
“Here we are," Ashley said. "We look up and we’re playing right before Thanksgiving. We expect to be playing next week too. That’s just the expectation here.”