Return of the Swamp Thing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Eric Chiplin(55) and David Heard of VHS wrap up Natchez’s David Ford behind the line of scrimmage Friday night.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[9/18/01]The running joke of people who followed the Vicksburg High Gators over the past few years has been they run a Southwestern Athletic Conference offense almost unstoppable.

Trouble was, they also ran a SWAC defense almost unrecognizable.

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All that has changed this year, along with attitudes and expectations. Three games into the season, the Gators are stirring memories of the dominating “Swamp Thing” defenses of the early 1990s.

“This defense could surpass the Swamp Thing,” defensive coordinator Robert Erves said, referring to the squad that featured two current NFL starters (Mark Smith and Michael Myers) and several Division I-A players.

“The Swamp Thing was a more seasoned group, but these kids right now are coming together. We’re not hitting on all eight cylinders right now, more like six. But we’ll keep working hard to get there.”

As expected, the Gators’ offense is plowing through opponents with reckless abandon, averaging 33 points per game. The defense, however, is more akin to Mississippi State’s than Mississippi Valley’s.

Vicksburg allowed the only touchdown of the year to John Ehret late in a 20-7 win. The Gators were already up 20-0 when the TD was scored and a miscommunication had the wrong personnel on the field.

The Gators followed their Red Carpet dominance with back-to-back 39-0 shutouts.

Brookhaven, one of the 39-0 victims, scored 32 in its opener and 27 in last week’s win.

In 2000, through the first three games, the Gators were giving up 15 points a game. In 1999, over the same span, VHS allowed 31 points per game.

“Everyone is so much more fired up than they were last year,” middle linebacker Tim Brown said. “We’ve been able to keep our intensity the whole game. If we lose that intensity, they will score.”

Led by a speedy, hard-hitting secondary, which head coach Alonzo Stevens said “has four D-Is,” the Gators expect more opponents to try running.

David Heard, D’Eldrick Taylor and Brown lead the team with two interceptions each. William Erves also had an interception against Natchez.

Running against the Gators may prove as futile. No team has gained more than 100 yards against them so far. Powerful John Ehret amassed only 99.

“Brookhaven passed a lot last year and tried to run on us this year,” said senior Johnny Daniels, a nose tackle Stevens refers to as half-man, half-monster. “The offense has to keep scoring and the defense has to avoid getting the big head.”

Putting points on the board has not been a concern the last several years. Only now, instead of having to crank out 40 points a game just to keep up, the Gators are able to experiment more.

“Against Natchez, we had a third-and-3 and we passed,” said offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson, whose offense is averaging more than 400 yards per game. “We weren’t worried about it. We knew we could punt it and our defense would play good ball.

“We are able to do a lot of different things that we may not have been able to do last few years. This defense is playing really well right now and we’re all proud of them.”

The Gators’ defense will be tested the rest of the season. With South Pike which shut out Warren Central 8-0 on the slate next, then the region schedule, the road gets rougher for VHS.

“We have to stick with the game plan,” Stevens said. “Whether we’re up 20 or down 30, we need to stick with what we’ve got. We’ll make adjustments, but we’ll stay with the plan.”

The plan now seems to keep teams off the scoreboard at any cost. Erves said he was “angry” when his team allowed its only TD of the year in the opener, but is not surprised at the rise of the unit.

Players are not surprised at the defense’s performance, either, but… .

“I knew after the spring game that our defense was going to be pretty good,” Daniels said. “But I didn’t think we’d be doing what we are doing now.”