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Vikings call for re-enforcements from 12th man’

[11/15/01]Warren Central coach Robert Morgan could just as easily be talking about his team when he describes Tupelo.

“They have great special teams, a good defense and their offense is solid, but they’re not high-risk,” he said. “They’ve been up and down this year.”

Warren Central’s first-round playoff opponent is indeed much like itself, as well as familiar Region 2-5A foes Madison Central and Clinton.

Tupelo and WC both play a punishing style, on offense and defense, and they both have a solid kicking game. Both also have a run-first approach on offense, but big-play capability in the passing game. Both also have storied traditions and coaches who have won state championships.

“They remind me of us,” WC quarterback Brett Morgan said after watching the Golden Wave on film. “They won’t do anything to beat themselves. They don’t make mistakes.”

That’s why the Vikings (7-4) say they need all the help they can get against No. 16 Tupelo (8-3) Friday night, especially after last week’s emotional win over archrival Vicksburg High.

They want to generate that same electric atmosphere as they host a playoff game for the first time since 1997.

Brett Morgan credited fans with helping unranked WC get past the then-No. 16 Gators, 27-14.

“When you walk out at 6:30, an hour before kickoff … and there are already so many people there cheering for you, it gives you a boost,” he said. “Fans just don’t know what that does for the team. I hope they come back out. It was jumping.”

Morgan was an eighth-grade ballboy the last time WC hosted a playoff game. Tupelo was the opponent that year, too, as he watched his brother, Josh, and the Vikings fall, 24-14.

“I hope to change the outcome this time,” said the younger Morgan, who verbally committed to Mississippi State over the summer. “If we tackle and don’t turn it over, we should be OK.”

Tupelo coach Phil Ferguson, who won a 2A state title at Bruce in 1996, said, “It will probably come down to what it usually comes down to in close games not making a mistake in the kicking game.”

The key for the Vikings’ defense is simple stop junior tailback Davious Gillespie.

That’s easier said than done. Last week, he touched the ball five times and scored four TDs, including a 97-yard kickoff return, in a 35-17 win over Olive Branch. The week before, Gillespie rushed for a school-record 275 yards in a loss to Horn Lake.

“He follows his blocks and busts up in there,” Robert Morgan said of Gillespie, who has almost four times as many carries as any other Wave back with 190 for 1,335 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Vikings, on the other had, have bruising fullback John Hicks (128 carries, 528 yards, eight TDs) and fleet-footed tailback Richmond Fields (97 carries, 601 yards, two TDs), as well as Morgan (68-of-145, 958 yards, seven TDs), who is a threat to run or pass. Both backs topped the 100-yard mark last week, a first for the season.

“That was the night for running backs we’ve been waiting for all year,” Robert Morgan said.

Without a single go-to guy, WC is harder to figure out, Ferguson said.

“They run that triple-option so well. All three of them can beat you and No. 2 is a game-breaker,” he said, referring to receiver Carlton Bradford. “You have to be disciplined.”

WC linebackers Tyler DeRossette and Andrew Patton lead the team in tackles with 130 apiece. DeRossette had 16 last week. Two-way players Morgan and Bradford have buoyed the secondary the last few weeks. Both made interceptions against VHS.

“They’re defense is well-coached, they always seem to be in the right spot,” Ferguson said. “I watched Morgan strip some balls back there.”

Though both offenses like to keep it on the ground, neither defense can afford to overplay the run.

With Bradford (27 catches, 506 yards, five TDs), the Vikings have a big-play receiver.

With 6-foot-7, 215-pound Kevin Caldwell (23 catches, 411 yards, four TDs), the Wave have a big receiver and a quarterback, Will Kline (75-of-153, 991 yards, six TDs) ,who can get it downfield.

Ferguson said his team has benefited from playing in a tough region, with Starkville, Columbus, Greenville and traditional power South Panola, which didn’t make the playoffs this year.

“If you can come out of it healthy, you’ve been tested,” said Ferguson, whose team lost to Columbus, Starkville and Horn Lake.

WC finished second to Madison Central, ahead of VHS and Clinton, after overcoming a 3-4 start.

“We were able to (come back) because we have mature coaches they’ve been through the ropes and the determination of our players to be successful,” Robert Morgan said.

As for their chances of ending a five-year losing streak in the playoffs, he said, “I think we can make some racket.”