OLIVE BRANCH – Thanks to a miracle Hail Mary pass, Olive Branch sent Starkville home shaking its head and with tears in players' eyes as time expired.
On the final play of the game. Olive Branch quarterback Todd Mays scrambled around, avoided two sack opportunities and then flung a pass that found the waiting arms of wide receiver De Arthur Cowan and the junior walked in for the game-winning score.
“We had some unfortunate things that happened to us that kept them in the game,” Olive Branch head coach Scott Samsel said. “I thought we deserved to win and were better than them the whole night.”
The loss for SHS (5-4, 3-2) still leaves them searching for that final victory to qualify for the Class 6A playoffs with home games against defending state champion South Panola and rival Columbus to end the 2010 season.
“I’m dreading going in that locker room right now because I know I’ll see some players that are absolutely devastated,” Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve lost this way and I don’t think I’ll know where to start.”
Starkville High had what it thought was its version of a game-winning drive as quarterback Jaquez Johnson showed why he was selected as one of the best in the state of Mississippi by leading his team on a 17-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Hill.
In the first game since being selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, the Yellowjackets senior signal caller piled up 220 total yards and all five touchdowns.
“We were great offensively all night and he was the leader of that no doubt about it,” Mitchell said.
Olive Branch junior tailback Jaylen Miller took his second carry of the game into the end zone from 10 yards out on fourth down to force Starkville to drive the length of the field once again.
After dazzling the capacity crowd at Pool Field with his legs in the first half, Mays completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to De Arthur Cowan to give the home team a 27-24 lead in the third quarter.
In his first trip back to Olive Branch since roaming the sidelines for the Conquistadors, Mitchell broke out everything in the special teams playbook including a fake punt in the third quarter that followed an onside kick in the first half.
The Starkville offense answered a 60-yard drive on the opening possession for Olive Branch with a special teams return by Garrett Smith as he took the kickoff to the 12-yard-line and five plays later Johnson plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to tie the score.
Olive Branch (7-4, 3-2) got the lead back 12 seconds later as Byrekus Jap Payne made one cut and suddenly had himself a 98-yard kickoff return for the game’s third touchdown in the first eight minutes.
The Starkville offense rallied with a 28-yard run from Preston Baker, a sophomore tailback who was only in his second game back after fracturing his jaw in the season opener, and ended the drive when Johnson found Hill on a fade pass perfectly placed toward the corner of the end zone to tie the score at 14.
Smith recovered the immediate pop-up onside kick at the 38-yard line. The drive looked to be stalled before a fourth down catch by Martavious Foster for 13 yards led to a 21-yard field goal by kicker Daniel Fumo gave the Yellowjackets (5-4) their first lead of the game at 17-14 with 9:10 left in the half.
On the next possession, Mays broke four tackles on a third-down scramble for a 23-yard run to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Mays took a designed run 17 yards up the middle for his second touchdown of the night.
Olive Branch’s misdirection run game frustrated the SHS front seven throughout the entire first half of play.
Starkville put more numbers on the scoreboard on a play-action fake that resulted in a 31-yard touchdown pass as Hill beat man coverage and Johnson hit the Yellowjackets big-play threat in stride to make it a 24-21 SHS advantage as both teams headed to the locker room for the halftime break.