October 31, 2010 12:44:00 AM
Despite a tight first quarter, the Columbus High School football team''s secondary struggled to keep Olive Branch in check through the air and suffered a 34-7 loss that eliminated it from the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 1 playoff race.
On the game''s opening drive, which lasted 12 plays and went for 45 yards and saw six penalties for 60 yards, Olive Branch failed to convert a fourth-and-3 on Columbus'' 10-yard line.
Columbus went three and out on the ensuing drive, but a forced fumble by the Falcons'' Tim Hudgins on Olive Branch''s return gave Columbus the ball back on its 40. Olive Branch''s Wynton McManis intercepted freshman quarterback Trace Lee on next series and capitalized with 18 seconds remaining the first quarter when junior kicker John Pittman kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Conquistadors (6-4, 4-2 region) a 3-0 lead.
The second quarter was a different story, as Olive Branch dominated through the air with junior quarterback Todd Mays going 6-for-9 for 125 yards and three scores.
Mays connected with senior running back Courtney Gladney on all three touchdowns. The first came on the back of an eight-play, 52-yard drive when Mays found Gladney for a 26-yard score over the middle on a fourth-and-10 to make it 10-0.
Following a three-and-out by the Falcons, the Conquistadors scored on another fourth-and-10, this time on a 20-yard pass from Mays to Gladney.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Columbus'' Damian Baker fumbled the handoff and Olive Branch recovered on Columbus'' 34 and capitalized with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Mays to Gladney that made it 24-0 at halftime.
"I thought our kids played tough in the first half because their first two touchdowns were on fourth-and-long situations and that broke our backs," Columbus coach Tony Stanford said. "We just got behind early and it is hard to catch up when you were down 24-0 at half, but we switched Ced (Jackson) in there trying to move the ball and we are trying to figure out the balance between him and Trace (Lee)."
With Jackson at quarterback to start the second half, Columbus was forced into another three-and-out, which set up a 25-yard field goal by Pittman that extended Olive Branch''s lead to 27-0.
The Falcons responded with their longest drive of the game, a six-play, 70-yard march sparked by a 50-yard sprint down the sideline by Baker, but Michael Sturdivant''s field goal attempt was blocked.
On the ensuing drive, Columbus (3-7, 1-5) forced Olive Branch''s first punt of the game.
Olive Branch found the end zone one last time, this time on a 62-yard scamper by Byrekus "Jap" Payne, that made it 34-0.
Columbus ended on a strong note, following a couple of successful shovel passes by Jackson to Baker before Baker scored on a 6-yard draw.
"I am still encouraged, though, because we have good things to look at next season with a lot of key players coming back," Stanford said. "Right now we got Starkville next and we let them steal a couple wins from us the last two years, so I think we owe them one and would like to end the season on a winning note."