Stevens sees hope in Gators after loss to Eagles

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2003

Vicksburg High’s A.J. Hicks rushes for yards as South Pike defenders Sam Reed (22), Vincent Wheatley (10) and Artis Varnado take him down during the Gators’ 49-20 loss on Friday night. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[9/22/03]Walking off the field after another gut-wrenching loss, Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens was smiling.

In the post-game huddle, he never raised his voice and never yelled. Instead, he praised his players for not giving up and staying in the game.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I saw the gleam in the eye,” Stevens said. “They could have laid down and quit, but they didn’t.”

With the crushing 49-20 defeat by No. 7 South Pike, Vicksburg (1-3) is left with plenty of questions. Opening the season ranked No. 4 in the state, the Gators never thought they would fall to 1-3 entering regional play.

“It’s pretty tough,” linebacker Rory Johnson said. “We never expected to be here at the beginning of the season.”

After a shocking 14-12 loss to Natchez (1-3) on Sept. 12, Vicksburg needed a good performance against some tough competition. The Gators didn’t show up in the first half, but Stevens was pleased with his team’s performance particularly in the second half and saw what he has been looking for all season.

“We finally came together on offense and defense for the first time,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of them. We saw some things to build on in the second half.”

Trailing 36-7 at halftime, Vicksburg tied South Pike 13-13 the rest of the way.

The Gators put together two long scoring drives to begin each quarter in the second half.

To begin the third quarter, Vicksburg rode the legs of Arthur Hicks and Michael Rainey on a 10-play, 73-yard drive ending with a Hicks touchdown. The series milked more than five minutes off the clock, but any hopes for a comeback had long since passed.

Following a South Pike score that brought the score to 42-13, Vicksburg again used the ground game for a score on another Hicks run.

“We found our consistency tonight,” Stevens said.

But the first half can’t be ignored.

Vicksburg made a slew of mistakes that led to Eagle touchdowns.

On the opening drive, the Gator defense was toasted on a 33-yard pass that set up South Pike at the 5-yard line, leading to a score.

Trailing 6-0, Hicks fumbled at the Gators’ 40 and South Pike’s Michael Cockerham returned it for a touchdown.

Vicksburg cut the lead to 12-7, but two plays later the pass defense was exploited again on a 59-yard touchdown pass.

The Gators next drive stalled and Heath Daigre punted 41 yards to Jessie Burton at the Eagle 22. Burton took the ball left, reversed fields and fired down the South Pike sidelines for a 78-yard score.

And that was all in the first quarter.

“I wish we could have started the first half like we started the second half,” Stevens said.

The game settled down, but Vicksburg could never get its passing game on track, which led to the reliance on the run in the second half.

Between dropped passes and inaccurate throws, Gators’ quarterback James Jackson finished 7-for-18 with 92 yards and a touchdown.

“We’ve just got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of the way we fought and I think we really came together as a team.”

“Now everybody starts 0-0.”

The outcome of the first four games doesn’t mean much in terms of postseason hopes. The real season begins Friday for the Gators as they open Region 2-5A play at Memorial Stadium against a 4-0 Grenada team ranked No. 8 in the state.

“We’re already down,” Johnson said. “We have nowhere else to go but up.”