Vikings’ goal is to come home again

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 9, 2000

Playing in the most competitive region in the state could turn out to be a blessing for Warren Central (9-2).

The Vikings, ranked 10th in The Associated Press poll, will be the only team among the state’s Top 10 to travel for the first round of the playoffs when they meet tradition-rich South Panola on Friday night.

WC finished third in Region 2-5A behind No. 1 Clinton and No. 6 Madison Central.

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“I think that speaks very good of this division we are in,” said WC coach Robert Morgan, whose team will be making their 16th straight playoff appearance.

The first-round trip may turn out a blessing for the Vikings.

With a win, WC is guaranteed to host the second-round matchup with the Clinton-Tupelo winner on Nov. 18. A banner in the Vikings’ fieldhouse reads, “Let’s come home again.”

“We’re going to go to South Panola and dominate the football game,” said WC fullback John “Train” Hicks, who has rushed for a team-high 747 yards and 13 touchdowns. “Then we come home and play either Clinton or whoever they play and beat them, too and upset their championship hopes.”

The Vikings’ only two losses were to Madison Central and Clinton. Their resume includes a 21-7 victory over No. 12 McComb, the Tigers only loss of the year, and a 30-7 drubbing of Vicksburg.

South Panola coach Ed Stanley is well aware of the dangerous Vikings and said having them in Batesville is not an advantage at all.

“For some reason, we always seem to play well on the road,” said Stanley, whose team has won four of the last five games. “It’s really easy for us to lose focus when we are at home. I know our guys seem more focused when they have to travel.”

The Tigers entered the season as the state’s second-ranked team, but lost to Moss Point in the opener, then fell to Clarksdale and suffered the school’s most humiliating loss in years, a 7-6 decision to Olive Branch.

“The chemistry wasn’t there early,” Stanley said. “After that devastating loss to Olive Branch, we had to sacrifice part to save the whole, so to speak.”

Several personnel changes, including starting sophomore Ricky Wright at quarterback, were made. The rewards were evident immediately.

The Tigers crushed then-undefeated Columbus, 55-0, then won two more before losing to No. 3 Starkville, 24-8, on the second-to-last week of the season.

The offense has improved greatly, Stanley said, and the defense is very aggressive. An eight-man front with an emphasis on stopping the run is South Panola’s main goal.

“Their team is not up to par like it usually is, record wise,” Morgan said. “But I can assure you that they are a very good football team. Columbus was undefeated and rolled up there and thought, this is the end of Panola’ and got beat 55-0.”

The Vikings, who rely heavily on the run, will face one of their toughest tests of the year, Morgan said. Panola features seven seniors on defense, but junior linebacker Chris Herring makes the Tigers go.

Stanley compared Herring to Ole Miss’ Eddie Strong, who also starred for the Tigers.

On offense, South Panola features 1000-yard rusher James Dean and fleet-footed tailback Marcus Conner. Wright will also run from the quarterback slot often. The offense has similarities to Vicksburg’s multi-faceted running game that features misdirection plays and lots of movement behind the line of scrimmage.

“It helped us playing them last week,” said standout defensive lineman Corey Nettle, who along with Thad Henderson anchors a defense that has given up an average of just 10 points per game. “It got us a little more prepared for this week. We know what to expect.”

Warren Central’s offense may have to rely more on the passing game, as was the case in the loss to Clinton. The Tigers play man-to-man defense and usually drop just one safety.

“We are well aware that (WC) can strike from anywhere on the field,” Stanley said. “We feel like the quarterback (Brett Morgan) is the man on offense and he gets things going.

“From watching film, number 3 and 18 (wide receivers James Judge and Kacy Jones) can bust a big play whenever and then they have a fine looking running game.”

Brett Morgan has thrown for 810 yards and six touchdowns, while five tailbacks will platoon in the backfield.

Coach Morgan said if he sees one major advantage for WC, it’s in the special teams. Brett Morgan averages 43 yards per punt, while Todd Monsour has kicked six field goals and 31 of 33 extra points.

South Panola, Morgan said, does not kick field goals or extra points. The couple they did try were missed, he said.

The veteran WC coach was quick to emphasize, however, that he thought the Vikings had a special teams advantage in 1993, when the Tigers beat WC in the state championship game. WC had a crucial punt blocked in that game that led to a key Tigers’ touchdown to spark the 42-28 win.

Hicks just believes his Vikings are due. WC won the 1988 state title, then went six years before winning their second in 1994 six years ago.

“This is our time,” Hicks said. “It’s time to bring it back to WC.”