Gators ready for showdown with No. 2 Starkville

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2001

[11/30/01]Vicksburg and Starkville did 180-degree turnarounds in preparation for tonight’s North State Championship showdown at Memorial Stadium.

Both spent last week preparing for a ball-control, power game. Both were successful as No. 2 Starkville shut out Warren Central, 21-0, and Vicksburg dumped region rival Madison Central, 28-0.

This week, coaches and players are preparing for what could be a shootout.

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Sporting high-powered offenses, the Gators (10-3) and Yellowjackets (12-1) certainly have no problem scoring. Offensive formations could change as quickly as the weather.

“Starkville has a lot more experience than us,” VHS punter Victor Parker said. “They have three state championships and we have none. But this is the playoffs and anything can happen.”

The Gators proved that in the first round after struggling early against Columbus until winning, 29-28, with a late touchdown.

Similarly, Starkville struggled with turnovers early against Clinton in its first playoff game before blowing out the Arrows in the second half.

Both had dominating games in the second round.

“Starkville can move the football and we have to be very much aware of that,” Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens said. “This time of year, you do what you do best. We’ll just try to get in there and compete.”

Starkville banks on the big-play combination of quarterback DeAngelo Dantzler and Tee Milons. The two hooked up twice against Warren Central.

“Their whole offensive scheme is to spread you out and get the defense out of position,” VHS defensive coordinator Robert Erves said. “We know what they’re trying to do, we just have to play our base defense.”

The Gators line up in a 3-4 defensive scheme with two “dog” linebackers on the end of the line. Middle linebackers Tim Brown and Decorey Knight patrol the middle.

In the secondary, which should be busy, the Gators rely on senior David Heard, Chris Humes and J.J. Brown. Junior strong safety D’Eldrick Taylor is one of the hardest hitters around.

Milons leads Starkville with 989 yards on 39 catches and has 13 touchdowns.

“They are very fast, but we are quick on defense, too,” Brown said. “All of our defensive backs have to play this week. All of them.”

Starkville, meanwhile, stacked the line against WC’s overmatched offensive line. The Yellowjackets held WC to 163 yards.

Starkville coach Bill Lee said his defense will have to use its quickness against the wide-open Gators, who have an offensive line that averages 300 pounds per man.

“I heard they run a 6-2 defense so I know we’ll have to spread the ball out,” VHS offensive lineman Delvecchio Ellis said. “Hopefully, that will open things up for Phelan later in the game. We have to execute on every play.”

Lee said dealing with the Gators’ size is a daunting task.

“We haven’t seen a line that big before,” Lee said. “The thing about them is that they move their feet so well.”

Neither team thinks scoring will be too much of a problem. Starkville averages about 24 points per game, while the Gators score 27 points per game.

“They have a great team,” Lee said. “Their skill players explode and make things happen.”

Brown, nicknamed Lightning, leads VHS with 1,037 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, as well as 502 yards and four more scores on 28 catches. He averages 11.1 yards every time he touches the ball.

Fullback Phelan Gray, the Thunder half of the backfield, had three short touchdowns against Madison Central. The 5-foot-9, 245-pound bruiser has 936 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“We have to be ready to break down on defense, or we’ll get our brains knocked in” Lee said.

“They are very balanced on offense and do what they need to do.”

Quarterback Justin Henry is 99-of-176 for 1,432 yards and 10 touchdowns, but the junior has been intercepted nine times.

“We were very balanced running and throwing Friday night,” Henry said.

“If we play like that, we’ll be tough against anybody we play.”

Special teams may prove a key as well with Milons and Brown returning kicks and punts for their respective teams.

Maurice Taylor, another VHS returnman, has the only kick return for a score on either team.

The most glaring weakness for both teams is the tendency to turn the ball over.

The Gators fumbled 19 times this year and had 10 passes intercepted. Starkville has committed 37 turnovers.

“Whoever makes the fewest mistakes always comes out on top, it seems,” Henry said. “Especially in the playoffs, it’s a major key.”

Vicksburg is shooting for its first berth in a state championship game since the new playoff format began in 1984. Starkville has won three state titles one as a Class 4A power in 1994.

“I hope they come ready to play because we are already ready,” Brown said. “We want to come out and play like we did last week.

“We’re one step closer to the big goal, so there’s no way we can be except fired up.”