By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
TUPELO – The Tupelo Golden Wave certainly had a dose of cold water waiting for Olive Branch on Friday night.
With its defense shutting down the Conquistadors, Tupelo erased a losing streak in the series dating back to 2003 with a hard-fought 7-0 victory in the regular season finale for both schools.
“I told you Olive Branch was for real,” first-year Tupelo head coach Trent Hammond said. “Our defense played lights out.
“Our special teams played lights out. I’m just proud of what we’ve done this season, and proud of the kids this year.”
Hammond had every reason to be singing the praises of the Wave (10-1, 6-1), turning around the program following a 4-7 mark in 2012.
Now the Wave must re-learn how to perform in the playoffs, not having visited the postseason since 2008.
As the No. 2 seed from Division 1-6A, the Wave will host the 2-6A No. 3 seed, the Warren Central Vikings next week.
But first Tupelo had to find a way to dispatch Olive Branch, a preseason pick to win 1-6A, but also a team that had been eliminated from post-season play prior to this contest.
The Wave defense and special teams did their parts in the first half, with Justin Clifton and James Gilleylen each blocking a punt. Clifton added a fumble recovery, but the halftime score stood at 0-0.
In this field position struggle, Tupelo caught the biggest break of the contest on the first possession of the third quarter.
After good kickoff coverage and a sack, Olive Branch was forced to punt from its 1-yard line. Trying to take advantage of the normally aggressive punt-block, Olive Branch attempted a fake, but the Wave pressure contributed to the pass falling harmlessly to the ground.
It took only one play from there for Jarvis Wilson to score the game’s only points.
“I promise we deserve this win, but we’ve got to keep working in the playoffs,” said Gilleylen, a senior inside linebacker. “Really, this was a very important game for us.”
Olive Branch quarterback Ross Trail did throw for 156 yards, but the Tupelo defense more than held the visitors at bay the remainder of the contest.