Olive Branch vs. West Point: The Game That Will Decide 5A North
Yep, we have another rematch this week.
Many, including SES Mississippi, thought this would be the matchup for 5A North Half even before the season started. Now, here we are, 15 weeks later. Let's break down this bout between the Green Wave and Conquistadors.
They need little introduction. They are the back-to-back defending 5A champs and have nine gold balls in their field house. Oh yeah…they also carried a 30-game win streak at one point during the regular season. Call them baby South Panola or whatever as a program, they’re good…no…great.
However, this is not last year’s West Point squad, who absolutely steamrolled their entire schedule into submission. They’ve been beaten, once, by their rivals southwest of them: Starkville. West Point has also been in a few fourth quarter dogfights (one of which was their opponent this week). Like great programs do, they have found a way to win.
Past stars such as Marcus Murphy, Chris Calvert and a bunch of others are gone. Again, like great programs do, they don’t rebuild; they reload.
They have many weapons of choice offensively. They have Brandon Harris, not to be mistaken for Murphy, but wears the same number. Harris has 872 yards rushing, just a little more than teammates Kam Martin and Dantariyus Cannon, who have 726 and 746 yards respectively. Safe to say, this team likes to run the ball and shove it up their opponents' nose. However, that’s not all they can do.
This year, they have a quarterback with a cannon for an arm. That guy, the son of the head coach, is Jake Chambless. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard passing mark last week, and he can make things happen with explosive plays and play action passes.
Defensively, the Green Wave have done Green Wave things in being tough as nails. They've had a few rough games, in large part to playing some really good offenses, but allowing 175 points still isn’t too bad.
Tyler Rupert, as expected, has been a vital leader on this defense. Rupert has four interceptions with 63 tackles. Brandon Lairy has stepped up big time in his senior season as well as Brentt Cuningham, and they each have 60 tackles. The one wrecking ball on the defensive line is now Jaylen Cungious who leads the team with 81 tackles with a whopping 17 TFLs.
As mentioned before, this team has been on this stage many times, but it will not be easy to knock off their opponent this week: the Conquistadors of Olive Branch.
After bottoming out with an 0-11 campaign in 2016 and dropping down to 5A, the Conquistadors won 23 of their next 26 games, which is impressive, to say the least. The reason they didn’t win all 26 happens to be because of West Point.
Head coach Tyler Turner has done a remarkable job of reviving this proud football program and putting them on the map once again. He also brought much needed stability to the program after the previous five head coaches before him left after one year each.
The players have bought in, and now they have a chance to make it to a state championship for the first time since 2011 when they won it all. Like West Point, they also had many key pieces leave last year due to graduation. Also like West Point, they had a group behind them that was hungry to play and ready to lay it out on the line for their school.
Offensively, the ground game is solid, but their passing game shouldn’t be slept on. Cole Catledge has thrown for 1,400 yards on the year and his favorite target, Josh Stevenson, has been a big part of that, especially on 3rd down.
Going back to the ground game, Dakota Braswell and Gary Banks II have done a tremendous job replacing the production that Demarcus Ware left behind. Braswell is just over 1,000 and Banks is just 16 yards away from that mark. Both backs have combined for 23 TDs this season.
The Conquistadors are, like last year, solid in the front seven. They shut down a very talented Holmes County Central team last week, but gave up 34 to West Point earlier in the year, most of which came in the second half. They will look to not make the same mistakes this time around.
These guys can make a case for best linebacker group in 5A with all of the talent at that position. They have Jevon Banks, Kado Carr, Kyle Norman and Caden Burse in that area. As far as the defensive line, Johnny Setchfield has been “that guy” that makes things happen. He has 22.5 TFLs out of his 86 total on the year.
The Conquistadors were oh so close to handing West Point their first region loss since 2015. But alas, the Green Wave showed their resiliency by fighting out of a two score hole and punched in a game winning TD with 34 seconds left in the game. West Point won 34-33, and it was eventually the game that decided the region.
Now, it is a clean slate. It is win or go home. Will the Green Wave be the first team to play a state championship in Jackson, Starkville, Oxford and Hattiesburg? Or will Olive Branch represent the DCS for the second time ever on the big stage?
Rowdy's keys to victory:
Can Olive Branch win the line of scrimmage?
They’ve done this quite a bit this year, especially up the middle. Their offensive line will have to play their best game against a West Point defensive front seven that is…well…nasty like usual.
Can Olive Branch get off the field on 3rd down?
This West Point offense will wear defenses out, and that is exactly what killed Lafayette last week. The Commodores could not get off the field on 3rd down. They were gashed at the end as West Point rallied and came away with the win. Olive Branch has to do what Lafayette couldn’t in order to have a chance to win.
Can West Point hit the home run?
This is just what West Point does to people historically: they blow people off the line of scrimmage and out race all 11 defenders en route to the end zone, usually for over 50 yards. More importantly, it gives them momentum. This team feasts off momentum, especially at their home stadium. However, it will be hard to pull off against Olive Branch.
Can West Point pressure the quarterback?
If anything goes wrong in the run game for Olive Branch, they are still in good hands. Cole Catledge is pretty good, especially on 3rd down. He can pick some defenses apart with his weapons at receiver. Sending more than five after him might cause mistakes, and that should be a plus for the Wave.
**Photo Courtesy of Keith Warren, MHSAA