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Vicksburg D’ starts Stevens era with W’

J.J. Brown of Vicksburg High tries to pull away from John Ehret’s Henry Tolliver as Sam Reeder, right, falls on him.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[9/01/2001]So much for the question marks about Vicksburg High’s defense.

The Gators clamped down on Louisiana powerhouse John Ehret Friday night, holding the high-powered Patriots to 99 total yards to start the Alonzo Stevens era off on a high note.

“I’ve got the best coaching staff in 5A,” Stevens said. “They got the kids ready and sold them on what we were trying to do … it was amazing.”

Walter Warfield scored two touchdowns and Phelan Gray added one late in the third quarter to lead an offense that struggled at times despite returning most of last year’s statistical leaders.

“The defense won this game,” said J.J. Brown, who led the Gators with 65 yards on 10 carries, a 50-yard kickoff return and a diving interception that killed the Patriots’ final drive. “They deserve the credit. We knew they were going to be good … this will be big for their confidence.”

Playing on a soggy field at Viking Stadium, the footing was treacherous and both teams had trouble hanging on to the ball.

“We knew that their strong suit was their passing game and our strong suit was our secondary,” Stevens said. “We told our secondary all week that if they make a catch, make them pay for it.”

They listened. David Heard, D’Eldrick Taylor and Chris Humes all put punishing hits on receivers.

John Ehret quarterback Dwain Bannister completed just 8 of 23 passes for 66 yards, 30 of which came on their final two plays.

“Their defensive backs did an excellent job,” John Ehret coach Billy North said. “They came out ready to play. They deserved to win.”

VHS junior Justin Henry was 6-of-10 for 48 yards and a touchdown, completing passes to five receivers.

A couple of bounces went the Gators’ way early. After VHS’ first offensive series went three-and-out, Justin Randle recovered a punt that brushed against a John Ehret player and the Gators were back in business. They went 54 yards on 12 plays, with Warfield scoring on a 2-yard fumble recovery after the ball squirted straight up when Brown was hit while headed to the end zone.

“We caused four or five fumbles that we should have come up with, but that’s the breaks of the game,” said North, whose team lost 17 starters off last year’s 12-2 squad that made it to the state 5A semifinals. “The last couple of years, those balls have been bouncing in our hands.”

On their next series, Warfield reached high to grab a Henry pass across the middle for a 27-yard touchdown. Victor Parker’s second PAT made it 14-0. The Gators drove 56 yards on nine plays, highlighted by Henry’s 11-yard scramble on third-and-6 and freshman Michael Rainey’s 16-yard run.

“Justin threw a perfect pass,” said Warfield, a senior tight end.

The Gators held the Patriots to negative yardage on their next two series, with Keith Ferguson sacking Bannister and Johnny Daniels making a tackle for a loss. Tim Brown stopped the Patriots’ next series with an interception.

Jermaine Wright later blocked Andy Bean’s punt and Randle recovered again at the 5-yard line. Gray took it in for a touchdown on the next play, putting VHS up 21-0 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.

“We said all week that the edge would be the kicking game,” said Stevens, who praised defensive coordinator Robert Erves, offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson, special teams coach Kevin Manton and the rest of his assistants.

When Quentin Thomas broke through for a 35-yard touchdown with eight minutes left in the game, it put the Patriots in positive rushing yardage for the first time.

“It’s tough,” North said. “We’re not used to losing.”