It’s human nature for a coach’s mind to wander to next year when leading a state champion.
Last season, the West Point High School football team swept its 15-game schedule en route to a repeat Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title. That journey included two one-sided victories against Olive Branch.
The rivalry will be renewed again at 7 p.m. Friday when West Point (6-1) plays at Olive Branch (7-0) in a battle for the Class 5A, Region 1 lead at Earl Harris Stadium.
“They have a great group of athletes,” West Point coach Chris Chambless said. “Even though we had the upper hand twice last season, you could tell they still have some great athletes who were young. Most of them are back, and they have put together a great season.”
Both teams are 3-0 in region play. The winner will emerge as the favorite for the region title. Overall, West Point has won 23-straight region games dating back to the 2015 season.
“It’s always a challenge to play on the road,” Chambless said. “We will have to match their intensity to start the game. That will be the big challenge. You have to be motivated and ready to play on the road. It’s a long trip, so you want to get out there and get going and get started on the right foot.”
The Conquistadors finished 0-11 in 2016, their final season in Class 6A. Tyler Turner has won 19 of his first 21 games as the new coach back in 5A. The losses were to West Point last season — 51-7 in the regular season and 39-6 in the North State championship.
“That’s a great motivation,” Chamblee said. “We have been in that position. Your year ends and you don’t play your best. It really motivates you to get back to that point. They are playing well, so we will have to play our best game of the season.”
Olive Branch has beaten Saltillo (26-6), Lewisburg (58-7), and Grenada (13-7) in region play.
Much like West Point, Olive Branch has built its success on the ground. Senior Dakota Braswell has 557 yards and five touchdowns. The Conquistadors are averaging 242 yards rushing per game and are on pace to have three 1,000-yard rushers.
“There is no secret to what they want to do,” Chambless said. “If we win the game, it will because our defensive line has a great game. We have been much better of late forcing the turnovers, so a couple of those could help.”
Olive Branch senior Cole Catledge has thrown for 901 yards and 12 touchdowns (three interceptions).
On defense, Olive Branch is allowing nine points per game.
West Point is in its best offensive rhythm of the season. In the last two games, West Point has rolled past Center Hill (41-6) and Lake Cormorant (47-7).
West Point is averaging 228.6 yards per game. Junior Brandon Harris has scored a team-high nine touchdowns.
“We continue to grow on offense,” Chambless said. “The last couple of weeks our balance has been better. At this point in time, you are wanting to form the identity you will have in the playoffs.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.