Standing on the sideline after watching teammate Kentray Ware rip the latest in a series of long runs in Friday night’s Class 1A playoff opener against Greenville-St. Joseph, Ford simply said, “That’s a senior who wants to keep playing.”
Ford could have been referring to all of his Chieftain teammates, who played inspired football in a 64-21 thrashing of the visitors from Greenville.
Seven different Chieftains scored touchdowns in the win, including five from a senior class that refuses to go away quietly.
Senior Kentray Ware rushed for 151 yards and two TDs while QB Zack Brooks tossed a pair of scores and added another on an interception return for Okolona, which advanced to the 1A quarterfinals with the 43-point win.
“These seniors just wanted it tonight, and the whole team followed their lead,” first-year Okolona head coach Calvin Aldridge said. “Two years ago, this group lost to St. Joseph in the playoffs, and they weren’t going to let that happen again.”
Indeed they weren’t. After falling behind 7-0 early on, Okolona righted the ship, scoring 36 first-half points to seize control.
Ware put the Chieftains on the board midway through the first quarter, darting in from six yards out. Ford added the 2-point conversion run to give the Chieftains an 8-7 advantage, a lead they would not relinquish.
Leading by one after the first quarter, Okolona exploded for 28 second-quarter points, led by Brooks, who had a 13-yard scoring toss to wideout Antwan Grady and a 47-yard interception return to close the half.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Brooks said. “I was watching the quarterback’s eyes and I knew he was about to throw it my way. When he did, I just took it to the house.”
Big second quarter
Ford chipped in a 13-yard touchdown run and senior Ryan Isbell charged into the end zone from seven yards out for the Chieftains, who outscored the Fighting Irish 28-8 in the second quarter.
Facing a St. Joseph team that employs a 5-wide passing attack, Okolona’s defense was up to the challenge, sacking QB Derrick Brown three times, forcing four turnovers and scoring on a pair of interception returns, the second by the versatile Ware to cap the scoring in the fourth quarter.
“We knew coming into tonight that they were going to throw it,” Ware said. “We took that as a personal challenge and worked hard all week to get prepared.”
Brown completed 21 of his 41 passes, most of which came against nonstop pressure from Okolona’s defensive front.
“We see a lot of spread offense, but not that many that pass that much,” Aldridge said, “but we did a great job of getting pressure and making plays when we had the opportunity.”
In the second half, Okolona wore down the St. Joseph defense, rushing for 171 yards after the break. On the night, the Chieftains rushed for 322 yards.
Senior Derrick Ivy added a 22-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which gave Okolona a 44-15 lead after Grady caught the 2-point pass from Brooks. Moments later, Kirksey scored his third touchdown for the visitors, returning the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a score.
Kirksey also scored on a 31-yard pass from Brown in the second quarter.
In the fourth, Brooks completed his big night, connecting with senior Ordarrion McCoy on a 20-yard scoring pass. On the night, Brooks completed seven passes for 94 yards and the two scores.
“Coach told me that the seniors had to come out and take control of this game,” Brooks said. “That’s what we did. Now, we just want to get back out here next Friday and do it again.”
The Chieftains capped the win in the fourth quarter with a 4-yard TD run by sophomore Fred Ward and Ware’s 26-yard interception return.
Okolona, the No. 2 seed out of Division 1-1A, will next visit Durant, 2-1A’s top seed that advanced with a win over Falkner.