By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Lamar Aldridge has seen the tape and he’s read the scouting report on today’s opponent – top-ranked Olive Branch.
“We’ve got our hands full,” said Tupelo’s defensive coordinator.
Olive Branch (10-0, 5-0) visits the Golden Wave (6-4, 4-2) for a 7 p.m. kickoff that marks the end of the regular season. Both Division 1-6A teams will play next week in the postseason.
The Conquistadors come in averaging 40 points per game and have scored 199 in their last four victories – 62 DeSoto Central, 45 Horn Lake, 49 Grenada, 43 Columbus. They also have a 24-6 win over South Panola, a team that beat Tupelo 56-14.
The player who makes the OB spread offensive attack click is quarterback Todd Mays, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior, who has passed for 2,091 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 761 yards and eight scores.
“He’s a great athlete playing quarterback,” Aldridge said. “He reminds me of Jarious Jackson (former THS and Notre Dame quarterback).
“He runs and throws well. I’d say he’s the best quarterback in the state.”
Mays’ go-to receiver is D’Arthur Cowan, who has 48 catches for 1,028 yards and 12 TDs.
In the backfield, tailback Jap Payne has rushed for 406 yards and scored four touchdowns.
What impresses Aldridge the most is Olive Branch’s huge offensive line, that features four 300-pounders and one 280-pounder.
In last week’s 31-7 win at Horn Lake, Tupelo noseguard Josh Hamilton had six tackles and one sack and linebacker Bryan Bruce added eight stops.
“We hope we can slow them down,” Aldridge said.
Tupelo TB Ashton Shumpert, who rushed for 271 yards on 37 carries against Horn Lake. He now has 780 yards rushing despite missing three games with a stress fracture in his lower leg.
Wave offensive coordinator Andy Crotwell praised his O-line for its work in recent weeks.
“They are coming off the ball a lot better,” he said. “Coach (Brian) Jones has worked their tails off. They’ve gotten better and it’s showed the last couple of weeks. We just need to try to eliminate mistakes and protect the football.”