Pink was Janie Branch’s favorite color.
Branch, the 3-year-old daughter of Marshall Academy athletic director Bruce Branch, died Monday at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis after the family was involved in a car accident Saturday.
Fans of Heritage Academy and South Pontotoc donned pink Friday as part of the “pink out” and toy drive in Branch’s honor. A heaping pile of toys to be donated to Le Bonheur graced a table behind the Patriots’ bench; a white banner with #JANIESTRONG in pink lettering was attached to the chain-link fence.
“It’s awesome to see that table full of toys back there,” Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison said after Friday’s game.
As the Patriots’ athletic director, Harrison worked with Bruce Branch when he was Heritage Academy’s head baseball coach. The parent of a young daughter himself, Harrison expressed sympathy for the grieving Branches.
“I hate it for that family,” Harrison said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
South Pontotoc was just one of the many schools across Mississippi to honor Janie Branch’s memory this week. Heritage Academy held its own fundraiser Friday to help the family cover medical expenses; a GoFundMe page had raised over $60,000 as of Friday night.
“I hope they felt that love from around the state and even from a lot of people they don’t know,” Harrison said.
— Theo DeRosa
Positive signs can be found in defeat
The final score read 38-19. West Point, which led Noxubee County just 19-6 with 5:45 left to play in third quarter, used its punishing ground game to dominate the rest of the way.
But the Tigers saw flashes of what could make for another successful season in Macon. Senior quarterback Vernorrius Chaney, who was just 5 of 16 with an interception during the first half, connected on two long bombs late, a 69-yard pass to a wide-open junior Anthony Little for the Tigers’ second touchdown and a 57-yarder to senior Antonio Fowler to cap the scoring with 1:16 remaining.
Did these plays come during garbage time? Yes. Did West Point have all of its starters in the game that late with a big lead? No. But Chaney finished 14 of 27 for 233 yards and those two scores, and Little and Fowler each topped 100 receiving yards.
Those plays might not have meant anything Friday night, but nobody else on Noxubee County’s schedule figures to be as formidable as West Point, either. The Tigers know they can make the big plays, and against Class 3A foes they don’t figure to be trailing by 26 points the next time they make one.
— Tom Rysinski