The Great American Rivalry Series featured game of the week will have the Olive Branch Conquistadors battling the South Panola Tigers Friday night in a matchup of the state’s last three 6A state champions. This classic Mississippi rivalry began in 1972 with South Panola leading in wins, 26-10. Olive Branch won last year’s matchup, 24-6, to snap a 10-year losing streak to South Panola.
Olive Branch finished the 2011 season a perfect 15-0 on their way to winning the MHSAA Class 6A state championship. The Conquistadors beat Petal in a thrilling 35-34 win to earn the state championship title. Now in his 7th season, Head Coach Scott Samsel has the trouble of replacing the core of his offense from last year. The Conquistadors lost quarterback Todd Mays and wide receivers D’Arthur Cowan and Jaylen Miller. The 2012 season started off with a 2-way battle for the quarterback position. It looks as if senior transfer Sam Craft has beat out fellow senior transfer Josh Cooley. Craft transferred from Craigmont in Memphis where he threw for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns while only throwing 3 interceptions. He also rushed for 466 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with his already stellar throwing numbers. Craft is currently ranked as the #39 overall athlete according to Rivals.com and is committed to play at the University of Memphis. Craft will have senior Jap Payne lining up in the backfield to hand off to. Byrekus Payne and Malik Mayweather will have an opportunity to showcase their talents at wide receiver thanks to the openings left behind by the 3 graduating seniors from last year. Senior safeties Dontrell Nelson and Jamil Collins will give the Conquistadors one of the state’s best secondary. Olive Branch recently cracked into the Rivals.com top-100 at #98 and currently is riding a 20-game winning streak going back to last season.
The South Panola Tigers had an impressive 9-4 overall record to finish the 2011 season. They went 6-1 in league play and made an appearance in the quarterfinals of the 6A playoffs, where they lost to Madison Central 28-14. To say the Tigers have dominated in football since 2000 would be an understatement. The Tigers hold the 3rd longest winning streak in high school football history. They won 89 straight games from 2003-2008. From 2002-2008, the Tigers appeared in a MHSAA record setting 7 consecutive Class 5A state championship games, winning 5 of them. South Panola won the state title 5 consecutive years from 2003-2007, which is also a MHSAA record. The Tigers reclassified in 2009 when the MHSAA added a 6A classification and went on to win the first two 6A state championships in 2009 and 2010. The 2010 team earned a #1 national ranking and the national title. South Panola has 9 overall state titles, more than any other MHSAA member school. The 2012 Tiger squad returns 16 starters from last year’s team. Junior transfer Rip Kirk will lead the Tiger offense at quarterback. Ladarius Strong and Darryl Henderson will handle the running game for the Tigers. Senior Deon Mix will help give the Tigers some size on the offensive line. Mix is ranked as the #10 offensive guard in the country and the #3 player in Mississippi (Rivals.com). The defensive line will be a bit of a question mark for South Panola, having lost linemen Issac Gross and Temario Strong. The defense will be highlighted by highly-touted recruit Antonio Conner at safety. Conner is currently ranked as the #7 safety in the nation and the #1 player in Mississippi (Rivals.com) and is drawing interest from every major SEC program.
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