STARKVILLE – Facing Olive Branch on yet another muddy and sloppy field, Starkville coach Bill Lee knew his squad couldn’t allow any gifts to its visitors.
But that didn’t happen, and two crucial Starkville turnovers early in the second half led to Olive Branch’s 23-13 win Friday night.
Despite holding the visitors to just 148 total yards, the Jackets (3-6, 3-2 in Division 1-6A) had four turnovers, including the pair in the third quarter that led to 13 points for the Conquistadors (7-2, 4-1).
“The only thing you can say sometimes is you try hard but it just doesn’t happen for you,” Lee said. “We just had some balls that got away from us a bit, and they had some key interceptions.”
Trailing just 10-7 at halftime, Starkville’s Jaquez Johnson tossed an interception on the second play of the second half. Olive Branch’s Randell Forney returned the pick to Starkville’s 7, setting up QB Todd Mays’ seven-yard scoring run.
Later in the third quarter, Johnson threw his third interception of the night. This time, Olive Branch’s Steven Saulsberry left nothing for the offense to do and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown. It gave Olive Branch a commanding 23-7 advantage and put the game out of reach.
“I thought we did a good job of grinding out on a wet surface,” Olive Branch coach Scott Samsel said. “And the defense did a great job of forcing some turnovers and setting up some scores. Another key to it was our special teams play, and it was a huge advantage for us.
While Olive Branch’s defense was coming up with the crucial plays, senior tailback Keshun Shipp was doing damage on the other side of the ball.
Shipp finished with 29 carries for 146 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown run in the opening half.
On the night, Johnson completed 17-of-32 passes for 179 yards and rushed for 64 yards. The Jackets did manage to cut the lead to 23-13 midway through the final period thanks to Johnson’s 23-yard scoring strike to Martavius Foster.
Paul Jones/Special to the Journal