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Olive Branch keeps Starkville playoff bid on hold


Logan Lowery Dispatch Sports Correspondent



STARKVILLE -- The Starkville High School football team needed a victory Friday night to clinch a berth in the Class 6A North Half playoffs. 


But Olive Branch turned four Starkville High turnovers into 13 points that proved to be the difference in a 23-13 win in their Class 6A, Region 1, District 2 game. 


The Conquistadors (7-2, 4-1 district) fell behind after an early interception, but rallied to score 23 unanswered points to remain in second place in the district behind South Panola. 


"These kids have battled through a lot," Olive Branch coach Scott Samsel said. "I''m proud of them. Players make plays. It''s not Xs and Os that win ballgames for you, it''s the players." 


The Conquistadors had only 145 yards offense but capitalized on several short fields after the defense helped force turnovers. 


"I think that was key," Samsel said. "They''ve got a good defensive squad and thank goodness for our defense setting up some scores." 


Keshun Shipp rushed 29 times for 129 yards and one touchdowns to lead Olive Branch, which had 131 yards rushing. 


"I thought we brought a lot of power to the table," Olive Branch tackle Damien Robinson said. "Wet surface, dry surface, it doesn''t matter because we are still going to run the ball." 


Conquistador quarterback Todd Mays was 2 of 5 for 14 yards and an interception. 


"I thought our line did a good job and Shipp ran the ball hard," Samsel said. "Other than the turnover, I thought my quarterback did a good job managing the ballgame." 


The Yellow Jackets took advantage of a turnover to score first midway through the first quarter. Billy Shed intercepted Mays and returned it 17 yards for the first points. Cody Berryhill added the extra point for a 7-0 lead. 


Olive Branch missed an opportunity to score when Taylor Earhart''s 37-yard field goal sailed wide right. 


The Conquistadors put things together on their next drive after a 30-yard punt return by Courtney Gladney. They went the remaining 28 yards in two plays and scored on a 7-yard scamper by Shipp. Earhart''s point after tied the game at 7. 


Starkville went three plays and out on its next drive and brought on Wesley Montgomery to punt. But the snap was low and Montgomery''s knee was ruled down, which gave the Conquistadors excellent field position. They capitalized when Earhart kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 10-7 heading into the half. 


The Conquistadors extended their advantage early in the third quarter. Randell Forney intercepted quarterback Jaquez Johnson on the first drive of the second half by at his 7. Olive Branch scored on the next play on Mays'' 7-yard draw play. 


Stephen Fortenberry intercepted Johnson on the first play of the fourth quarter and returned the ball 19 yards for a touchdown. Earhart''s extra point extended the lead to 23-7. 


Starkville (3-6, 3-2) rallied with a nine play, 62-yard drive that Johnson capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martavious Foster. The conversion pass fell short. 


"I guess the only thing you can say is you try hard but it just doesn''t happen," Starkville coach Bill Lee said. "We just had some balls that kind of got away from us a little bit. They had some key interceptions. The field is kind of wet and we should have executed a little better, but sometimes some bad things happen but we aren''t going to point fingers. We''ve still got eight quarters left to make it to the playoffs." 


Starkville is tied with Southaven for third in the district. Southaven holds the tiebreaker, which means Starkville would earn the last of the district''s four playoff berths if the regular season was over. 


But the Yellow Jackets travel Friday to district leader South Panola on Friday and then to Columbus on No. 6 in the regular-season finale. 


Columbus and Tupelo are tied for fifth at 2-3 in the district. 


The Yellow Jackets had 240 yards on offense, with 182 yards passing and 58 yards rushing. 


Johnson was 17 of 32 for 182 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also had a team-high 67 yards on 14 carries. 


Billy Shed caught six passes for 43 yards, while Chuck Tillery had four catches for 72 yards.



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