Over 10,000 fans witnessed two of Mississippi’s traditional powers battle in a match-up of the last two Mississippi 6A State Champions. The Olive Branch Conquistadors came in riding a 20-game unbeaten streak, including 11-0 last year in their run to the championship, and a 5-0 start to this season. The Tigers from South Panola came in 3-2, but their two losses came against national powerhouses Hoover (AL) and Bentonville (AR). Both Hoover and Bentonville are ranked as the number one teams overall in their respective states.
South Panola was led to a 28-14 victory over Olive Branch by senior running back Ladarius Strong who ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns in the win over their bitter North Half district rivals. Strong’s performance garnered him a unanimous selection as the Great American Rivalry Series MVP as voted on by the media in attendance.
The Tigers came into the game fired up against the defending state champs, and their gameplan was on display early as they used a physical presence on both sides of the ball to wear down the smaller Olive Branch. A three and out on the first Olive Branch possession gave South Panola the ball early in the period, and they marched down the field on seven consecutive handoffs to Strong, who gained 70 yards on those carries to bring South Panola to the Olive Branch four-yard line. Panola quarterback Rip Kirk hit fullback Tyler Beard on a quick pass to give the Pirates the early 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter the Conquistadors benefited from a roughing the kicker penalty to keep a drive alive and three players later tied the game up when quarterback Sam Craft hit wideout Malik Mayweather with a throw to his back shoulder for 32-yard touchdown and a 7-7 score with just under ten minutes to go in the half.
With under three minutes to play in the half, the Tigers got a 66-yard punt return from their All-American safety Antonio Conner. With the ball on Olive Branch’s 14-yard line following the return, Strong took advantage and scored three plays later to give South Panola the 14-7 lead at the half.
The story of the second half, and the rest of the game, unfolded on the first play as Conquistador quarterback Craft ran up the middle for a short gain, but the cog in the Olive Branch engine was injured and would not play another snap. Olive Branch struggled to find its feet under backup quarterback Josh Cooley and only managed to run two more plays in the remainder of the quarter, as the South Panola used a methodical running game to keep their offense on the field.
Early in the 4th quarter, Strong added his second touchdown of the game on a three yard run. Six minutes later, South Panola scored again on a 13-yard run from sophomore Darrell Henderson to take a 28-7 lead.
Olive Branch finally got their offense moving in the 4th quarter and scored on a QB keeper by Cooley, but it proved to be too little too late.
South Panola takes home the victory in this Great American Rivalry Series game 28-14.
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