Gators wait for MC, singing Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 21, 2001

[11/21/01]Madison Central coach Mike Justice doesn’t want his players to remember their Oct. 5 game against Vicksburg High.

VHS coach Alonzo Stevens doesn’t want his players to forget it.

“This is something we had hoped for,” Stevens said of Friday night’s rematch against the Jaguars (10-2) in the Class 5A quarterfinals. “We feel good about our chances.”

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How good?

The theme song for the Gators (9-3) this week is “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead. Last week, Stevens chose Steppenwolf’s “Bad to the Bone,” which played over and over every day of practice before the Gators went to Columbus and won, 29-28, their first playoff win since 1993.

The week before that, center Paul Gorney chose “Hole in the Wall” by Mel Waiters. The Gators then lost to archrival Warren Central, 27-14.

“I took over choosing the music after that,” Stevens said with a chuckle.

The music, which greets the players through blaring speakers in the fieldhouse as they arrive, is a welcome tension-breaker disco beat and all as they enter new territory of the pressure-filled postseason.

“We just wanted to do something to stop the monotony,” Stevens said.

Preparing for the Jaguars is a welcome bit of monotony for VHS, which had the right game plan last month, but didn’t execute and had a couple of close calls work against them on apparent touchdowns.

But getting revenge isn’t what motivates Stevens. He just wants his team to have a chance to exorcise two demons at once and make history. The Gators have never beaten MC and they’ve never made it to a state semifinal.

“I told them last week, all you have to do is win, and you don’t have to leave Warren County,” Stevens said. “We’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”

VHS is out of school today, but the Gators will practice at 2 p.m., their usual time. On Thursday, they’ll do a walkthrough at 8 a.m., then be off until meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday for a pregame meal.

The Gators beat Columbus to earn the right to host their first playoff game since 1994. If they beat MC and WC loses to Starkville, they’ll host Starkville in the North State championship game. If WC wins, VHS will play at Viking Stadium. Either way, it would be like a home game for the Gators, Stevens said.

After that, Stevens would be happy to leave Warren County because that would mean a trip to Jackson to play for the Class 5A state championship.

“We want to do something no other Vicksburg High team has done before,” Gorney said.

“It’s not revenge, because we had our opportunities … we just messed up. They have a great team and we have a great team.”

Justice, who has guided his team to the quarterfinals three of the last four years including a state title in 1999 said his team’s playoff experience and VHS’ lack of it isn’t necessarily an advantage for the Jaguars.

“I don’t know how much that helps,” Justice said. “Vicksburg is hungry. From now on, it’s like one-game sudden deaths. There is no Monday.”

Justice said he isn’t concerned about having to beat the same team twice in a season. As far as he’s concerned, he hasn’t seen the Gators this year.

“Once you’re in the playoffs, it’s a new season,” he said. “We’re starting over. We’re not even looking at that film … As far as we’re concerned, that game never happened.”

VHS coaches and players have tried to forget it after fumbling in the end zone twice and dropping several Justin Henry passes in the end zone during a downpour.

The Gators went on to win five of their next six.

“We know they’re going to throw the ball well, and they have a strong fullback (Phelan Gray) and a quick back (J. J. Brown),” Justice said. “They’re hard to deal with.”

Justice, whose team has made the playoffs every year since 1994, said the Class 5A playoff teams are as equally matched as he’s ever seen.

“Nobody would surprise me if they make it out,” he said.

Even Vicksburg?

“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” he said. “They’re very good.”