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trying to reverse recent 1st-round history

[11/16/2001]For a second straight week, Vicksburg High is trying to reverse history and start a tradition.

Warren Central, meanwhile, is trying to recapture history and rebuild its tradition.

VHS goes to Columbus and WC hosts Tupelo in first-round playoff matchups tonight.

In next week’s quarterfinals, the VHS-Columbus winner will face the Madison Central-Greenville winner; the WC-Tupelo winner will meet the Starkville-Clinton winner.

But getting to the second step has been the toughest obstacle for local teams the last few years. Neither team has won a playoff game since 1995.

The Gators (8-3, 5-2 Region 2-5A), who are 3-5 in first-round games since the current playoff system started in 1984, are 0-4 in the postseason since 1994.

One theory is that VHS players are always down after losing to archrival Warren Central in the traditional regular-season finale. WC, which beat VHS 27-14 last week, has won 10 straight and 20 of 21 in the series.

If that’s the reason for the postseason woes, first-year head coach Alonzo Stevens is doing his best to reverse the trend. He has encouraged his players to put that loss behind them, pick their heads up, and take out their frustration on a playoff opponent.

“We’re trying to build class and character here,” Stevens said. “I reminded them that eight times, they were on the other end of that feeling.

“You’ve got to let it go and focus on your goal a state championship. That’s still attainable.”

The Vikings, who have two state championships and a 5A-record 17 straight playoff appearances on their resume, haven’t had much postseason success lately.

They’ve lost five straight first-round games since beating South Panola, 13-6, in 1995. Before that, the Vikings were 9-2 in first-round games.

VHS’ last playoff win was 1993, 27-16 over Gulfport.

That means none of the current Vikings or Gators have won playoff games. The opponents, meanwhile, do have players with postseason notches on their belts.

Columbus beat defending champion Madison Central in the first round last year while Tupelo beat VHS in 1999.

Roy McCrory, who took over an 0-11 Columbus in 1997 and made it to the playoffs the last two years, said that postseason experience is overrated.

He hopes that’s the case since he lost 17 starters from last year’s team. He does, however, return his quarterback, Chris Maddox. Still, McCrory doesn’t consider that an advantage.

“I think that nine out of 10 times, the best team wins,” he said.

Tradition, he said, is more important.

“The kids are excited,” he said. “They realize what the group ahead of them has done, and they want to do better.”

None of the VHS or WC players have a recent measuring stick for playoff success.

WC quarterback Brett Morgan has been around those teams all of his life, including the 1988 and ’94 state champs, with his father, head coach Robert Morgan.

He’s been on the WC sideline since he was able to walk, watching that success, and understands the mentality that’s needed to win.

In 1997, he saw his quarterback brother, Josh, lead the Vikings to a regional title. That was three years after watching his oldest brother, Rob, quarterback them to the state title.

“You have to try to be on an even keel,” he said. “You don’t do too much celebrating if you win and you can’t get too down if you lose.”

Robert Morgan, who is 9-7 in first-round games, said the mental aspect of the game is most important this time of year because “all of the teams are good.”

“It’s about stamina, outlasting the other guy,” he said. “Everybody’s got bumps and bruises this time of year, so it becomes a thing of endurance. It’s a tough attitude.”

Beating Tupelo would give Brett Morgan family bragging rights, at least with Josh. The middle Morgan lost to Tupelo in 1997, the last time WC hosted a playoff game.

“I might use that one day,” Brett Morgan said, laughing. “No, really, he’s rooting for us 100 percent. The whole community is behind us.”