Vikings open playoff run at Olive Branch

Published 11:26 am Thursday, November 8, 2012

Warren Central is hoping that a business-like approach to Friday’s Class 6A playoff opener at Olive Branch will pay big dividends.

The Vikings (6-5) are treating the game just like any other by not altering their game week routine and are confident despite playing the defending Class 6A champions.

“We’re looking at it as any other game,” WC quarterback Carlisle Koestler said. “We’ve got to win it to stay alive.”

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There’s a reason why. The Vikings played a tough non-region schedule loaded with powerhouses like Brandon, Natchez and Hattiesburg, giving them the chance to test themselves against the state’s best. Although the Vikings lost all three games, all were much-needed preparation for the playoffs.

“Before the Jim Hill game, we told them (the Vikings) that this is a chance to earn an opportunity to play the best in Mississippi high school football,” WC coach Josh Morgan said. “Opportunity is a great word for it and we’re just looking at them as our next opponent and they’re in our way. Our kids have been in these kind of games and seen this kind of talent and size and been in that atmosphere. It’s definitely not new to them.”

Olive Branch (10-1) boasts one of the state’s most explosive spread offenses (33.5 points per game), led by senior quarterback Samuel Craft, who is dynamic dual threat.

“They are a big-play offense and they have tons of plays of over 20 yards and that’s how they beat people,” Morgan said. “He’s (Craft) their offense, running and throwing.”

Craft has completed 95 of 194 passes for 1,510 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading the team in rushing with 924 yards and 15 scores.

But Craft isn’t the only weapon the Conquistadors have in their arsenal. Running back Byrekus Payne rushed for 624 yards and seven touchdowns, while catching 30 passes for 393 yards and three scores.

Besides Payne, the Conquistadors have two of the state’s best on the outside at wide receiver, seniors Malik Mayweather (27 catches, 547 yards, three touchdowns) and Jamil Collins (12 catches, 403 yards, 33.6 yards per catch, four TDs).

“Their skill position guys, any one of them can take it to the house, like the Hattiesburg team we played earlier,” Morgan said. “Their tailback is an all-state guy and their receivers are so explosive.”

Offensively, the Vikings will have to play keepaway by sustaining drives and make some big plays against Olive Branch’s defense, which is giving up 22 points per game.

A powerful running game, led by backs Aaron Stamps and Greg King is key, but the Vikings have taken advantage of Koestler’s growing confidence and the chemistry between him and his top targets Kourey Davis, who broke the WC career catches record with his 57th against Jim Hill last week, and Marcus Ragan.

While Friday’s game is the first playoff game for most, if not all on WC’s roster, don’t count on the Vikings being wowed by the bright lights of the playoff spotlight in Olive Branch.

The Vikings hear opportunity knocking and hope to answer the door.

“This is an opportunity to show what we’re about,” senior WC offensive lineman Gary Williams said. “Coach (Morgan) told us not to worry about the experience, but to just handle our business.”