By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
OLIVE BRANCH – Fighting for its playoff life, Tupelo traded blows with defending Class 6A state champion Olive Branch before falling just shy of its goal.
The Conquistadors claimed a wild 53-43 shootout victory in the regular-season finale at Poole Field to eliminate the Golden Wave from postseason contention.
A game that saw a combined 96 points and 827 total yards started very tame with both teams punting on their opening two possessions.
It looked as Tupelo had forced a third straight Olive Branch punt, but a successful fake pass from Alfred Dickens to Jamil Collins resulted in a 72-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead after the first quarter.
The Conquistadors scored on their next two drives on scoring runs by Dontavis Bruce and Samuel Craft.
Tupelo (4-7, 2-5 Divison 1-6A) sandwiched a touchdown of its own between Olive Branch’s scores. Reed Taylor’s 5-yard run capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive for the Wave’s only points of the opening half.
Up 21-7 at halftime, the Conquistadors (10-1, 6-1) strung together three straight touchdowns in a matter of six minutes to extend their lead to a comfortable 41-7.
The Wave made things interesting, though, the last 15 minutes of play. Touchdown passes from Alex Norwood to Rodney McIntosh (74 yards) and Jarvis Wilson (12 yards) came within two minutes of each other and made the score 41-21.
Sophomore Justin Clifton added two fourth-quarter defensive touchdowns, the first a 50-yard interception return that was aided by a huge block from Ashton Wedel.
Clifton capitalized on a fumble off a failed hook and ladder attempt by the Conquistadors for a 30-yard score to cut Olive Branch’s lead to 10 points.
The Quistors were able to run out the clock from that point, however, to seal the victory and end Tupelo’s season.
“You want to win football games without a doubt,” said THS coach David Bradberry, “but the progress that we made from the time we started till now, I thought they’ve come light years.”
Craft, a preseason all-state selection in basketball, led Olive Branch with 205 all purpose yards.
“It’s just a good feeling to have a victory period,” he said.
Tupelo’s Norwood passed for a career high 211 yards and Taylor added another scoring run in the fourth to lead the Wave.