Morgan: VHS should be favorite

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 9, 2001

Larry King, a WC receiver, sprints downfield during practice Thursday.(The Vicksburg Post/CHRISTIN FLOWERS)

[11/9/01]Warren Central coach Robert Morgan doesn’t sound like a man who has presided over 10 straight wins against his archrival.

“I think Vicksburg High is the most talented team in Mississippi,” Morgan said matter-of-factly. “It’s going to take an exceptional effort on our part to win.”

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So, is that just Lou Holtz-like poor-mouthing or does Morgan really believe it?

“If I was on the outside looking in, I would have to think they’re the favorite,” Morgan said of VHS, which is ranked No. 16 in The Associated Press and No. 5 in The Clarion-Ledger’s 5A poll. “They’ve got great size, great speed and they’re good people.”

But that doesn’t mean Morgan doesn’t have confidence in his Vikings (6-4, 4-2 Region 2-5A), who have won three in a row to salvage not only their Class 5A-record 16th straight playoff berth, but a shot at the No. 2 spot in the region and a first-round home playoff game.

“If we get hot and get on a roll, I think we have a good shot,” he said.

The Gators (8-2, 5-1), who have won four straight, have the same motivation trying to earn a home game in the playoffs.

But they have a more burdensome incentive than the Vikings history. VHS has lost 19 of 20 to WC in the series.

That’s no comfort to WC quarterback Brett Morgan.

“Tradition doesn’t win ballgames,” said Morgan, who has also played safety in the second half of the season. “They’re good and we’ll have to play our best game to beat them.”

Not all of the players were quite so diplomatic.

WC’s John Hicks and VHS’ Phelan Gray, both fullbacks, have provided a little bulletin-board material for their opponents.

Hicks said he’ll “pound all over them” while Gray said,

WC “shouldn’t even be a challenge.”

Coach Morgan frowns on that kind of talk.

“Anything that’s said is going to be taken out of context and blown up,” he said. “We’ve told them, don’t say foolish things.’

“How we perform is what’s important.”

Preparation sheets Morgan handed out on Monday reminded his players: “Actions speak louder than words.”

“It’s always big and exciting,” he said. “We’ve got friends playing friends. They all know each other, and we’re friends with the coaches.”

That makes keeping the players focused even more of a challenge, especially with what’s at stake.

“It’s for bragging rights and all, but there’s more to it this year,” he said. “We would much rather stay home” for the first round of the playoffs.

Midway through the season, it looked as if the Vikings might not finish with a winning record or make the playoffs, much less host a first-round game.

Injuries have plagued WC all season, but none were as devastating as the ones that ended the careers of seniors Kacy Jones and Pat Minor, the team’s top receiver and tailback, respectively, last year.

Consequently, the Vikings hovered at or below the .500 mark until starting a three-game winning streak at Northwest Rankin Oct. 19.

A thrilling, triple-overtime victory over 5A state runner-up Clinton followed that. The Vikings’ first victory also came in overtime against 4A state champion McComb.

“This team has had to fight like the devil to win all year,” Morgan said.

The difference the last three games?

“The ball’s starting to bounce our way now,” he said. “We’ve gotten some good breaks.”

Overcoming the bad start and injuries may have made the Vikings tougher, Morgan said.

“Our division is a lot tougher this year,” he said. “We’re better than when we started.”

Minor said the difference is the offensive line.

“They’re stepping up a lot now,” he said. “It took a while for them to get together.”

Injuries may have more of an effect on the Gators tonight. Top cornerback David Heard is doubtful and quarterback Justin Henry has been hobbled by an ankle injury.

That puts a damper on the much-anticipated Henry-Morgan matchup.

Robert Morgan said he doesn’t think the quarterbacks will be in a shootout.

“Their stats aren’t that far apart,” he said. “Justin has done well, but it’s probably going to come down to J.J. (Brown), (Gray) and … whoever we can find to give it to.

“That’s the bread and butter for both teams.”

But in case WC does want to go to the air, receivers Carlton Bradford and Larry King are healthy and ready to go, Morgan said. They had been nursing injuries.

Hearing that Henry isn’t 100 percent doesn’t make Morgan relax.

“They’ve got three quarterbacks,” Morgan said. “(Arthur Hicks) beat the dickens out of our ninth grade last year. He’d be starting for most people.”