Leading the chargeVicksburg’s Henry, WC’s Ferguson have taken different paths to senior showdown
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 5, 2002
[11/05/02]Last season’s Warren Central-Vicksburg game was billed as a “Battle of the Quarterbacks,” but it never happened.
Warren Central’s Brett Morgan led his Vikings to a dominating win over the Gators, but Vicksburg signal-caller Justin Henry was sidelined most of the game with an injury.
Now, Morgan is playing at Mississippi State, but the quarterback battle this time around could be as heated as last year’s should have been.
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Henry, the top passer in Warren County, will lead his Gators against the Vikings’ newcomer, Jeremy Ferguson.
Not that Ferguson is, err, green, it’s just that he hasn’t had as much experience. Not that anyone could notice.
“I’ve surprised myself,” said Ferguson, who started one game in eighth grade before assuming the role this season. “I’ve been proud of myself. I know I can get better in some areas, but I’m proud of the way I’ve played so far.”
Across the county, Vicksburg’s Cadillac will be motoring his way into the final regular season of his stellar career.
The senior is giving up football at the end of the season to play baseball at Ole Miss, although colleges have been trying to lure him to the football field.
“He’s the total package,” Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens said. “He’s everything you want in a quarterback.”
The only thing in common between these two quarterbacks, besides the fact that they both play baseball, is their statistics.
Henry leads Warren County with 1,406 yards passing and 13 touchdown passes. Ferguson is second with 989 yards and seven TDs.
Warren Central’s offense is built directly around the run to set up the pass; Vicksburg’s is more geared toward what the opponents are giving it.
Against Forest Hill, the Rebels were playing a pair of safeties deep, so coach Alonzo Stevens leaned on the running game until the Rebels’ defense came up.
Then Henry went to work.
He tossed a touchdown and threw for 116 yards.
“We got back to doing the things we do well,” Henry said of the Forest Hill win. “It definitely helps the passing game out when the running game plays as well as it did.”
Even how the two got to be starting quarterbacks took different paths.
From eighth grade, Vicksburg coaches had Henry in their sights, knowing he was the future of the multi-faceted Gators’ offense.
As a junior, he took over full-time and led Vicksburg to the North State championship game, a 38-31 loss to Starkville.
Ferguson played sparingly in eighth grade, but was expected to be a backup to Chad Cox. When Cox transferred to St. Aloysius, Ferguson made his slow climb up the WC depth charts.
Ferguson played backup to Mississippi State’s Morgan, but rarely thought about starting ahead of him.
“He’s been remarkable, one of the best in Mississippi,” Warren Central coach Robert Morgan said. “He’s a field general and very poised. What else could you ask for?
“I’m elated with the way he’s played, his attitude and the way he’s taken responsibility to lead this football team.”
Neither Henry nor Ferguson will accept much praise, instead shifting it to a talented group of wide receivers, running backs and stout offensive lines.
Ben Shelton has been Henry’s go-to receiver all season, hauling in 34 passes for 538 yards and five touchdowns.
Shelton, though, is not the lone weapon Henry has to choose from. Maurice Taylor, who is expected to play on Friday, has 337 yards and four touchdowns on 27 catches. Michael Rainey has caught two TDs.
At Warren Central, Larry King leads the team with 383 yards and four touchdowns on 28 catches. Amos Chase has caught 13 passes for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“They’ve done a tremendous job for me this season,” Ferguson said.
The Gators’ O-line averages almost 300 pounds across and Warren Central’s has gelled after a disappointing 2001 season.
“They have grown up a lot this year,” Henry said of his offensive line that allowed only one sack last week and that was because Henry slipped down on the wet turf.
Richmond Fields, Warren Central’s feature back with 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns, and fullback Henry Williams (497 yards, 5 touchdowns) have taken a lot of pressure off Ferguson.
At Vicksburg, bruising fullback Phelan Gray, bottled up most of the season, ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than three quarters Friday night.
With a saturated field the forecast calls for cold and dry for Friday but constant rain takes its toll Henry said the running games may take on more importance in the 22nd installment of a game dominated year-in, and year-out by the Vikings.
“The quarterbacks always play a role in the outcome,” Henry said. “We’ll both try to keep a balanced offense and keep the flow of the game. We’ll have to make the right decisions at the right time.”