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Taylor-made D’ sets pace for VHS

Jonathan Wilson of Vicksburg steps on the facemask of Natchez defensive back Jarrod Ford as he picks up yardage.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[9/15/01]NATCHEZ Before the season, Vicksburg High’s offense got most of the publicity. Friday night, the Gators’ defense and special teams made their push to get in the spotlight.

The Gators (3-0) held Natchez (0-2) to 72 yards of total offense, intercepted two passes and blocked two punts and a field goal to earn their second straight shutout, 39-0.

D’Eldrick Taylor blocked both punts, picked off a pass on the first play of the game and made eight tackles to lead the effort. Taylor also took a lateral from Chris Humes on the blocked field goal and went 90 yards for a touchdown, but the lateral was ruled a forward pass and the play was called back.

“I feel the defense is earning theirs, and they rose to the occasion tonight … It’s a whole lot of fun right now,” VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said. “They’re playing, and that’s what championships are made of.”

The offense wasn’t without its stars, however.

Phelan Gray rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown, J.J. Brown rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 51 yards and another score, and Justin Henry threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

After Taylor’s interception gave the Gators the ball at the Natchez 42 just 14 seconds into the game, Gray ran in six plays later with a 6-yarder to put VHS ahead 7-0.

The Gator defense held Natchez to three-and-out on its next possession, and Taylor came up big again. He came off the right end untouched and blocked the punt off the foot of Charles Perry. VHS recovered at the Natchez 39, leading to Henry’s 5-yard TD run and a 14-0 lead four minutes later.

“They were letting me go through there and make the big play,” said Taylor, who was also unblocked on his second block, in the fourth quarter.

The Gators added another score early in the second quarter, on a 15-yard run by Maurice Taylor, but also started to hit a couple of snags that plagued them throughout the game.

The first of three bad snaps on extra points cost them a PAT and left it 20-0, and VHS also racked up 60 penalty yards in the first half, 108 in the game.

“I thought we were a little better coached than that,” Stevens said. “Before I really get on them, I want to look at the film. We had a couple that I wasn’t sure about.”

The problems for Natchez were far more numerous, however.

The Bulldogs moved the ball on several drives usually thanks to the VHS penalties but self-destructed whenever they advanced into Gator territory and generated only one scoring threat, on the blocked field goal late in the second quarter.

The entire VHS line broke through and swamped Natchez kicker Brian Williams as he reached the ball. VHS’ Johnny Daniels, who had 15 tackles, including eight solos, reached him first and was credited with the block.

“Right now, we just make too many mistakes. It’s all over the place,” Natchez coach James Denson said. “We make them at every phase of the game that’s humanly possible.”