November 1, 2009 12:38:00 AM
OLIVE BRANCH -- Olive Branch High School football coach Scott Samsel hadn''t called a swinging gate play in three years.
He did so at just the right time Saturday afternoon.
With the Conquistadors nursing a seven-point lead against Columbus with 84 seconds left in the first half, the play sprang running back Keyshun Shipp for a 41-yard gain that turned the momentum of the game at Leslie Pool Field.
The Conquistadors rode that momentum to score two field goals in the final 25 seconds of the half en route to a 33-7 victory.
The loss sets up a critical regular-season finale for Columbus (3-7, 2-4) on Friday at home against Starkville. The Falcons trail Starkville by one game for the fourth and final playoff spot from Class 6A, Region 1, District 2.
Tupelo, which is 2-3 in the district and plays hosts to Horn Lake on Monday night, also could also find itself in a three-way tie for that final spot.
"Next week will be one of our biggest games," said Columbus sophomore running back Damian Baker, who had a team-high 113 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Olive Branch (8-2, 5-1) took control of the game in the final two minutes of the first half, thanks to several Columbus miscues and a razzle-dazzle play.
With the Falcons trailing 14-7, Baker appeared to tie the game with a brilliant 56-yard touchdown run before a block-in-the-back penalty brought the ball back to the Conquistador 41-yard line.
The drive stalled at the Olive Branch 30 when Columbus turned the ball over on downs with 1 minutes, 24 seconds left.
That''s when Samsel called his play.
With an unbalanced line stacked toward the right side of the field, Olive Branch executed a direct snap to Shipp, who caught Columbus by surprise.
"We needed something," said Samsel, who said his team practices that play often despite not having used it in a while. "We had two timeouts and a long field to go. We just needed something to give us a big play."
Olive Branch turned the play into a 21-yard Taylor Earhart field goal with 25 seconds left in the half. Columbus'' Willie Meady fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Earhart kicked another field goal with less than a second left in the half.
"That was huge," Columbus coach Bubba Davis said of the two-minute swing. "We could have been in the game. Getting the touchdown called back took the air out of us."
Earhart and Shipp combined for all of Olive Branch''s points. Earhart added two field goals in the second half to give him a school-record four for the game, including a 42-yard kick in the fourth quarter.
Shipp, who rushed for 184 yards on 19 carries, scored three touchdowns, including a 56-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
The game started out well for the Falcons. Shipp fumbled on the game''s second play, and Columbus'' Martin Sherrod recovered it at Olive Branch''s 28. Five plays later, Baker was in the end zone on a 3-yard run.
"At the beginning of the game, we were confident, but we just didn''t finish the game," Baker said.
The Falcons'' lead held for the first quarter, but Olive Branch tied the game when Shipp''s 3-yard run with 9:33 left in the half capped an 82-yard drive.
Two plays later, Torrey Gill intercepted Columbus quarterback Cedric Jackson. Shipp then rushed 30 yards for a go-ahead score.
Baker said it was at about 12:30 p.m. Friday, shortly before the team was ready to board the bus for Olive Branch, when players learned the game had been postponed until Saturday.
"You can be very anxious having to wait a day for the game, but you have to make the adjustment, and when the next day comes, you have to be ready to play your best," Baker said.
Jackson agreed the Falcons were ready to play Friday.
"It did take us down some, but we could have played as well today as if it was Friday," Jackson said.
Jackson left the game early in the second half with a leg injury, but both he and Davis said he would be back next week.
Samsel said Columbus has shown much improvement since last season. Davis said his team just needs to get over the hump.
"We''re young and we played a bunch of sophomores today," Davis said. "We made mistakes. We''re working to become a good football team."