VHS-Madison key game in race forRegion 2-5A title

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 4, 2001

[10/04/01]Alonzo Stevens sees the Vicksburg High-Madison Central game as his team’s biggest game so far.

The winner will take an early lead in the race for the Region 2-5A championship. From there on, the Gators have home-field advantage. Clinton, Murrah and Callaway all have to come to “The Swamp,” and Stevens sees his Gators’ matchup at Warren Central as a home game, fan turnout-wise.

“If we win this one, the district championship has to come through us almost,” said Stevens, whose team has to travel to Forest Hill in November. “This game is by no means the end, but it is very important.”

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Stevens expects to see the same old Madison-style offense: run, run and then, run some more.

Behind a tremendous offensive line which averages about 285 pounds per man the Jaguars like to control the ball, something the Gators have been unable to stop in their previous two games.

“We plan to go into the game and run the ball,” Justice said. “But if they stop it, we’ll see if some other things work.”

After allowing a combined seven points in the first two games, No. 14 Vicksburg gave up 32 in a loss to South Pike and 29 to Northwest Rankin. The bulk of their offense was on the ground.

“We don’t plan on changing much,” Vicksburg defensive coordinator Robert Erves said. “We plan to just play hard-nosed football. We’ll line up toe-to-toe and get after it.”

The Jaguars, ranked No. 3 by The Associated Press, rely on bruising fullback Joe Harris, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior. Harris has 390 yards in five games. Junior quarterback Dillon Suddeth has 350 yards and receiver Maurice Rose leads the team with nine catches for 250 yards.

“We know they are going to run the football. Everyone in the state knows they run the football,” VHS senior linebacker Tim Brown said. “They won’t throw the ball more than 10 times, so if we can stop the run, we’ll be OK.”

Offensively, the Gators proved early they can score on almost anyone. VHS averages 35 points and 376 yards per game.

Junior quarterback Justin Henry has completed 67 percent of his passes for 514 yards and seven touchdowns and the Gators average a gaudy 8.1 yards per play.

“We have not played a solid game for four quarters yet this year,” VHS offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson said. “We’ll come out hot in the first quarter, then struggle and get hot again late. You can’t do that against a team like Madison Central and expect to win.

Vicksburg’s second-leading rusher, J.J. Brown, was cleared to play Friday night, but coaches are still unsure of how much playing time he will get. Sophomore Maurice Taylor has 17 carries for 183 yards and will start along with leading rusher Phelan Gray (408 yards) and sophomore Jonathan Wilson (six carries, 35 yards).

“I’ll try to get out there and do my best and whatever happens happens,” Taylor said. “I plan to run my best. I know I can do it … .”

The Jaguars can also generate plenty of offense with a 30-points-per-game average. In the last four, though, Madison has put up an average of 36 per game.

“We know the challenge we have in front of us,” Tim Brown said. “We need to work hard in practice.”

Both Stevens and Justice said turnovers will play a key role.

“Our defense has played well and we’ve been fortunate to get some turnovers,” said Justice, whose team forced four turnovers in a blowout of then-No. 1 Moss Point. “But Vicksburg is a great team on film. This is a matchup of legitimate top 10 teams.”

Madison entered the season ranked No. 8, but after its first loss, fell to No. 13 before vaulting to No. 3 after their fourth straight win.

Stevens said just the name should be enough to get his Gators fired up to play the Jaguars.

“This is what it’s all about; it’s Madison,” Stevens said. “If you can’t get your juices flowing for this one, you might need to change your profession.”