VHS defense coming on strong late in year

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 11, 2002

Detrick Johnson (61) and Johnny Daniel (45) of Vicksburg High pull down Warren Central quarterback Jeremy Ferguson for a sack on the final play of the first half in VHS’ 27-12 win Friday night. (The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[11/11/02]Ordinarily, one of the easiest decisions a coach could make is to punt on fourth-and-2 on his own 33-yard line with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and his team holding an eight-point lead.

Friday night, however, Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens faced that very situation and a dilemma.

His offense was playing well enough that it might pick up the first down and allow the Gators to milk more time off the clock. His defense was also playing so well that if the Gators didn’t get the first down, Warren Central would have a difficult time tying the game.

Stevens took one look at his defensive coordinator, and the decision was made.

“I looked at Coach Erves and he said go for it.’ That shows the confidence of the defense,” Stevens said, referring to VHS defensive coordinator Robert Erves. “We felt the way our offensive line and the defense was playing, it was a safe play.”

So Stevens gambled, and the Gators won. Fullback Phelan Gray converted on the fourth down try, and VHS scored the game-clinching touchdown on the same drive four minutes later.

Gray led VHS to its first win over WC in 12 years and only the Gator’s second win in the 21-year series but it was the VHS defense that really paved the way.

The defense scored the first touchdown of the game when Johnny Daniel returned a fumble 18 yards for a score early in the second quarter, set up another VHS touchdown drive with James Jackson’s third-quarter interception, and shut down the WC offense.

VHS held the Vikings to only 92 total yards and six first downs, and allowed only 35 yards in the first half. WC’s Richmond Fields, Warren County’s leading rusher entering the game with 1,131 yards, was held to just 41 by a gameplan designed to stop him.

“That was awesome. We put a good gameplan together,” Erves said. “The kids believed in the plan and we just executed it.”

Erves’ plan to stop the WC running game was simple plug the inside, then use the speed of D’Eldrick Taylor and the other VHS defensive backs to stuff Fields when he tried to bounce outside.

Fields didn’t have a run longer than 8 yards, and was dropped for a loss or no gain four times in his 14 carries.

“We knew (Fields) wanted to run inside, so we tried to bounce outside with him, with speed on speed,” said Taylor, who led VHS with 13 tackles.

Once the running game was held in check, Erves said the Gators simply dared WC quarterback Jeremy Ferguson to throw the ball.

Ferguson put the Vikings ahead 12-7 in the second quarter with a perfect 29-yard touchdown pass to Larry King, but the rest of his night was less memorable. He was sacked twice, intercepted once, and completed just 6 of 13 passes for 40 yards.

“We knew they’re a run-oriented football team, so we had to take away the run and make them do something they don’t normally like to do,” Erves said.

The Vikings were still able to stay in the game by being opportunistic. They converted a long kickoff return and a VHS fumble into nine points, and started another drive at the VHS 49 that ended in a 40-yard field goal by Will Clark.

WC only put together one long drive, however a 10-play, 57-yard effort that ended when Ferguson threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the VHS 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter and even that drive was helped by a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Gators.

“Tonight, they were better than us,” WC coach Robert Morgan said.

The Gators’ effort gave Erves and the VHS defense a measure of redemption, as well.

The defensive staff took plenty of heat from the VHS faithful after allowing 28 points in a season-opening loss to Wayne County and 41 in another loss against South Pike.

Over the last three weeks, however, the Gators have allowed only 28 points total and are playing their best football of the season heading into the playoffs.

“It’s something that was a long time coming and feels real good,” Erves said of beating WC. “We’re peaking at the right time.”