No. 1 VHS gets tough test early on

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 30, 2002

[08/30/02]All of the talk surrounding the Vicksburg Gators this week has been about their No. 1 ranking. A more appropriate number for tonight’s Red Carpet Bowl matchup against No. 7 Wayne County might be three.

Wayne County hopes the Gators’ ranking only lasts about three hours after they kickoff at 8:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. The Gators, meanwhile, only care where they are three months from now.

“It’s a goal you want to be at, but you want to be at this goal in December. Somebody has to be No. 1, but it’s won on Friday nights, not on paper,” VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said.

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And that’s a good thing for the Gators, whose schedule includes three teams in the top 15, starting with a Wayne County team that would like nothing more than to make its mark against the state’s top team on the road.

“It’s a great opportunity to open up with the No. 1 team in the state. You don’t get to do that very often,” said Wayne County coach Marcus Boyles, who isn’t coming into the game empty-handed.

Wayne County returns a 1,000-yard rusher from last season, running back Michael McLaughlin, and a good, mobile quarterback in senior Akeem Lofton. Fullback Jerrod Sims also returns.

“You can bottle them up and bottle them up, and they can really hurt you with the big play,” Stevens said.

While the War Eagles’ running game is their strength, their defense may be a weak spot. Wayne County lost nine starters from last season. The new group, coupled with a grind-it-out offense that chews up the clock as it chews up yardage, could pose a problem for the War Eagles, Boyles said.

VHS’ explosive offense averaged 27 points a game and totaled more than 5,000 yards last season, and most of the main pieces return.

VHS quarterback Justin Henry threw for 1,551 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2001, and fullback Phelan Gray ran for 1,060 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

“With the quarterback, fullback and offensive line they’ve got, you don’t need much else,” Boyles said with a laugh. “I think if it turns into a shootout we could be in trouble.”

The teams got a chance to scout each other at the Mississippi State camp this summer. Depending on who you ask, some coaches got a better look at the opposition than others.

During a passing drill, VHS linebacker Johnny Daniels came from the outside and laid a vicious hit on one of the Wayne County coaches, who was running the drill as the quarterback. The hit knocked the coach to the ground, and Daniels told him there would be more of the same in store for Lofton on Aug. 30.

Boyles denied the incident ever happened, saying Wayne County’s coaches weren’t even working on the drill.

“We actually talked about how good of kids they were,” Boyles said.

Daniels and Stevens remembered it clearly, however.

“I just put him on the ground,” Daniels said with a laugh. “I almost gave him whiplash, I hit him so hard.”

Stevens said the alleged incident was just “fun and games.” When the two teams meet again tonight, however, it will be all business. It’s an attitude the Gators hope to ride a long way this season.

“There’s always a little added pressure being No. 1 … but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out and prove it,” Henry said. “Once you’re there, you’ve got to stay there. Everybody’s going to give you their best shot.”