No. 6 Gators look to keep rolling against 18th-ranked South Pike

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

[09/19/02]Not since its opening-game loss to No. 1 Wayne County has Vicksburg faced as tough a challenge as Friday night.

The Gators, fresh off a pair of blowout wins against overmatched Brookhaven and Natchez, travel to No. 17 South Pike in the final non-region game of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Magnolia.

“They’ll be the fastest team we’ve faced,” Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens said. “We have to get to the ball on defense and play our game on offense.”

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The Gators may be thanking rival Warren Central. In last week’s 24-7 win over South Pike, the Vikings forced several turnovers, but also forced starting quarterback Fred Jones to the sidelines with an injury.

The quick 5-foot-6, 150-pound junior is the sparkplug for the Eagles (2-1). He left the Warren Central game late in the first half with a groin injury, then tried to return in the second half, but left after hurting his ankle.

South Pike coach Greg Wall was unavailable for comment.

The Gators’ defense will have to contend with the running of Quentrell Green and Dewayne Pittman, who got the bulk of the carries against Warren Central, but VHS linebacker Ray Kline said the defense will be ready for the challenge.

“Our D-line has to take their linemen out of the play,” Kline said. “I think if we can do that, we’ll be fine.”

Vicksburg’s biggest injury last week was not as serious as once thought. A.J. Hicks’ MRI on his knee came back negative. His status for tonight is in doubt, but he will return sooner than once expected.

Hicks and the Gators’ offense will look to do something that hasn’t been seen yet this year: get off to a fast start.

Brookhaven held the lead in the first quarter before Vicksburg got rolling in the 32-14 win. Against Natchez, the Bulldogs trailed just 7-6 at halftime before the Gators took advantage of several Natchez mistakes to put the game away in the third quarter.

“We do have to start a little faster,” Stevens said. “I think we have to play a little stingier on defense and limit the big plays. But I think we’ll be all right.”

Vicksburg opens a long stretch of road games after playing the first three at home. Next week, the Gators open Region 2-5A play at Callaway.

“Friday will come down to the way the O-line and D-line play,” Stevens said. “They’ll have to put pressure on them.”