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Olive Branch stifles Dragons in 2017 opener

The Collierville Dragons hit the road Friday night, traveling to take on the
Conquistadors of Olive Branch. Interceptions and a crippled defense plagued the Dragons all night. After only finding the end zone twice, and unable to muster an extra point, the Dragons fell 42-12. PICTURED: Senior running back Cole Johnson looks for open space downfield behind junior offensive lineman Michale Gildart.

By Michael Ward

Following a 5-7 season in 2016 that included an upset playoff victory over Wilson Central, Collierville High School was hoping for a strong start in 2017 as the Dragons traveled to Olive Branch (Miss.) High School’s Pool Field last Friday night.

The Conquistadors had other ideas.

Having lost 14 games in a row – including all 12 in 2016 – Olive Branch made an emphatic statement that 2017 would be different as the Conquistadors crushed the visiting Dragons 42-12.

“We got taken out to the woodshed,” CHS Head Coach Mike O’Neill admitted after the loss, which saw Collierville playing from behind the entire game due to several costly mistakes. “We lost some momentum early.”

Collierville looked poised to strike early in the first quarter after forcing Olive Branch to turn the ball over on downs on the game’s opening drive. Starting from the OBHS 41-yard line, the Dragons drove to the 10-yard line, where Caleb Myers’ 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Olive Branch’s Cordarius Watson – a sign of things to come.

Collierville quarterback Matt Connors eyes an open receiver down field. Photo by Roger Cotton

Collierville quarterback Matt Connors eyes an open receiver down field. Photo by Roger Cotton

The Conquistadors responded with a 55-yard drive, culminating in a Demarcus Ware II 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the first, CHS linebacker Gavin Rawie recovered a Ware fumble at the Olive Branch 44-yard line, but quarterback Matt Connors was intercepted by OBHS’ Jaylon Reed in the end zone on the ensuing possession.

The Dragons’ offense showed signs of life late in the first and into the second quarter as Connors connected with Kayvon Anderson and Justin Stonework on passes of 23 and 11 yards, and running back Cole Johnson added 22 yards on the ground. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Olive Branch gave the Dragons the ball at the OBHS 14-yard line and, two plays later, Johnson hauled in a 14-yard Connors pass, capping off an 85-yard scoring drive. A botched snap on the extra point attempt left the Dragons trailing 7-6.

On the first play of Olive Branch’s next possession, Ware sprinted through the Collierville defense for an 80-yard touchdown run and, after Connors was picked off by Jerrick Reed II, Ware was back in the end zone for a third time less than two minutes later with an 8-yard touchdown run. A Jacob Stephenson touchdown pass to E.J. Davis with 4:18 to go in the quarter gave the Conquistadors a comfortable 28-6 halftime lead.

Ware scored his fourth touchdown of the evening eight seconds into the fourth quarter on a 9-yard run, and running back Cameron Mosley added a 12-yard scoring run with 7:49 remaining in the game to put Olive Branch in front 42-6.

A Connors 6-yard pass to Caleb Harris later in the quarter gave the Dragons their only other touchdown, as the Dragons fell to 0-1 to start the season.

Following the game, O’Neill noted the Dragons’ youth, adding CHS had to replace eight starters on defense and seven on offense following the 2016 season.

“We’re young. We’ve got to grow. This is part of our growth, (but) our guys played four quarters,” he acknowledged. “We’ve still got a lot of positions still up for grabs.”

Collierville (0-1) will host Center Hill (Miss.) Friday night at 7 p.m.

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