The seniors of the Olive Branch High School football team who have worn the crossed swords of a Conquistador for the past several years have been through quite a bit in the time they have been with the program.
There have been five head coaches the past five years there, a new one each year since Scott Samsel was dismissed by former principal Allyson Killough. Of the group, just one got the proud Quistors into the MHSAA 6A playoffs, only to lose in the first round.
Otherwise, successors to Samsel have not fared well in trying to return Olive Branch football to a mantle of success and integrity fans and followers of the team had come to expect.
This year’s senior class, despite getting one game short of reaching the state championship in the first year as a 5A school with reclassification with Friday’s 39-6 loss to defending state champ West Point, have charted a new vision and new road for the future of Olive Branch football.
“These seniors have set the tone for Olive Branch football again,” said Quistors’ first-year head coach Tyler Turner, who came in and led this year’s group to a 12-2 record and a North Half finals appearance in his first year at the helm. “We have some big shoes to fill with that senior class. They’re a special group of kids. They’ve been through a lot the last four years and they just kept fighting. Just like tonight, they kept fighting and fighting to the final whistle and they’re going to be very hard to replace.”
Meeting a team that had beaten them 51-7 one month before, the Quistors struggled in the first half Friday against West Point once again.
On the second play from scrimmage, Green Wave senior Jason Brownlee caught a pass and took it in from 64 yards away to give West Point a 7-0 lead just 1:48 into the contest.
West Point would score again in the first quarter, a two-yard run from quarterback Marcus Murphy with 7:57 remaining, for a 13-0 advantage when the extra point kick attempt hit the left upright.
Murphy and Brownlee added to the lead in the second quarter, as Murphy finished a drive with a four-yard run at the 10:41 mark remaining in the half and Brownlee caught another pass, this time from 41 yards away, for a 25-0 lead.
Brownlee’s score came with just 10 seconds left before halftime.
Olive Branch gained a bit of life in the second half, however, when a Green Wave running play became a fumble near the Green Wave 30 yard line. Jaylan Hassell scooped up the ball and took it into the end zone for a touchdown from 70 yards away with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Olive Branch tried for two after the score, but quarterback Cole Catledge was tackled in the attempt, keeping the scoreboard at 25-6 for the Green Wave.
The turnover touchdown seemed to awake a sleeping werewolf, however, as West Point scored twice more with touchdowns from Murphy and Chris Calvert. Murphy scored from four yards out with 2:14 left in the third quarter and Calvert crossed the goal line from six yards away with 3:20 remaining in the game for the final score.
Late in the game, Catledge appeared to be taking matters into his own hands with a trio of runs on a drive that got the Conquistadors in sight of the end zone again, sliding after getting first down yardage on two occasions and forcing the West Point defense to bring him down near the Green Wave 20 yard line on the third.
“I wish everybody would have the toughness that Cole has,” Turner said about his junior signal caller. “He is 5-foot-7, a small guy you might say, but he has a heart of a lion.”
However, Catledge then tried to force a pass into the end zone, a pass that was intercepted, followed by the interceptor being tackled at the three yard line.
Despite Friday’s loss and the season ending for the Conquistadors, Turner is quite optimistic about the future of Olive Branch football, especially with the success built through the travails of the past years and the never-quit attitude of the senior class.
“What these seniors have done this year, with a coach coming in here late, putting in a whole new offense, whole new defense and all new special teams is amazing,” Turner said. “We can build on that and these guys will never be forgotten at Olive Branch as long as Olive Branch has a program, because they went from 0-11 to 12-2 and four quarters away from going to a state championship after going 0-11 the year before. I’m very proud of that group and very proud of the whole team.”
For the night, West Point amassed 506 yards of total offense and held Olive Branch to 127 yards for the contest.
Running back Demarcus Ware II was held to 11 yards on six carries, while Catledge led the rushing offense with 31 yards on 13 carries, including one carry for 29 yards.
Ware did become the first Olive Branch running back to carry for over 2,000 yards in a season, finishing with 2,006 yards for an average of 8.32 yards per attempt.
E.J. Davis and Hunter Riley each caught four passes out Catledge’s 12 completions; Davis for 33 yards and Riley for 22 yards.
West Point will play for the MHSAA 5A state football championship on Saturday, Dec. 2 against Hattiesburg, which claimed the South Half title with a 33-22 victory over Laurel. It will be the first state finals appearance since 1998 for Hattiesburg, which also brings an unbeaten (14-0) record into the contest.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.