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Gators’ rejuvenated offense keeps season hopes alive

Maurice Taylor runs the ball during the first quarter against Grenada on Friday. Taylor ran for 39 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown during the Gators’ fourth-quarter comeback. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

{9/29/03}Throughout the first four games of what seemed like an eternity for the Vicksburg Gators, coach Alonzo Stevens never lost hope, or his focus.

Even after a 14-12 loss to Natchez, a team that hadn’t won in 13 tries, Stevens stayed upbeat. After South Pike dismantled the Gators 49-20 one week ago, Stevens was as happy as he had been all season long.

“I saw the gleam in their eyes,” he said.

When the Gators went down 18-0 in the first quarter to an undefeated Grenada team, Stevens stayed calm and focused.

This time, so did his team.

“We’ve been there, done that, seen it all,” Stevens said when asked how his team could erase a 17-point lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter Friday night. “The coaches did an outstanding job. It all came together tonight.”

It came together in the fourth quarter when a dormant Vicksburg offense sprung to life.

Quarterback James Jackson, who was chased and harassed for three quarters, had time to throw in the fourth quarter thanks to a rejuvenated offensive line.

Five of those passes were to Ben Shelton, who hauled in two touchdowns including the game-winner.

On one drive, Shelton looked at Jackson, slapped the back of his own helmet as if to say, “throw it to me,” and made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on the sidelines. It was the first of his three catches on the game-winning drive.

Three running plays gave the Gators the ball on the Grenada 39-yard line with 46 seconds to play. Jackson connected with Shelton again for 21 yards, and Jackson scrambled to the 10-yard line with 21 seconds left.

With no time outs, Jackson spiked the ball setting up one last touchdown pass. Shelton, who was covered one-on-one all night by Grenada junior Chris Seals, caught an out pass at the 4, made a spin move and broke for the end zone with Seals on his heels.

“This was spectacular,” Jackson said. “We had a couple mistakes, but when it counted, we were right there.”

Vicksburg will host Clinton on Friday night in another tough Region 2-5A game. The Arrows lost their region opener to rival Madison Central.

With a win, the Gators will be 2-0 in the season that counts toward the playoffs.

“We’re defending co-champs in this district,” Stevens said. “The championship will come through Vicksburg.”

Gators charge past Grenada

[9/27/03]At the end of this year, Friday night’s Vicksburg High game may be referred to as the six minutes that saved the season.

The Gators (2-3, 1-0 Region 2-5A) scored three touchdowns in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter to complete an improbable 27-24 comeback victory over undefeated and eighth-ranked Grenada at Memorial Stadium.

“We knew we could beat them,” said VHS wide receiver Ben Shelton, who caught five passes in the six-minute stretch for 134 yards, scored two touchdowns and set up the third. “We came out with an excellent scheme, it just took us to the fourth quarter to put it all together.

“Being down didn’t mean nothing, we got heart.”

Shelton was on the receiving end of five of quarterback James Jackson’s seven completions on the night. The senior QB had no completions at halftime, and only one before the final six minutes.

“We had to just keep our heads up,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have good times and bad times, and we had to stay focused.”

Grenada had the game in hand after quarterback Jeremy Watson scored on a 22-yard run right through the middle of the Gators’ defense five seconds into the fourth quarter. The TD gave the Chargers a 24-7 lead.

“You have to play four quarters in this game, and we didn’t,” Grenada coach John McCrory said. “We played really well for three quarters.”

The Gators took the kickoff and marched 80 yards in 5 minutes, 55 seconds and scored on a 44-yard pass to Shelton to get the lead down to 24-14 with six minutes to play in the game.

The drive was kept alive by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Watson. Without the penalty, the Gators would have faced a fourth-and-8.

The penalty was in stark contrast to the Gators in the first half, who had two long Maurice Taylor touchdown runs called back because of holding calls.

“Those were huge,” Vicksburg quarterback Alonzo Stevens said. “But our guys didn’t get their heads down and they kept fighting. They kept fighting.”

Grenada took possession, but four plays later, Vicksburg senior linebacker Ray Kline scooped up a fumble and returned it 37 yards to the Grenada 40.

“Courtney Reed hit him and I just saw the ball,” Kline said. “I picked it up and started running.”

Shelton hauled in a 36-yard pass from Jackson on the Gators’ first play after the fumble, and Maurice Taylor ran around the end for a 4-yard touchdown run with 4:22 left to pull Vicksburg even closer, 24-20.

A defensive stand forced the Chargers to punt on their next possession, and the Gators drove 74 yards in the final 2:39. Shelton made three long catches, including the game-winning 10-yarder with 15 seconds to play.

“Ben told me they were playing him one-on-one all night,” Jackson said. “Late in the game I said I was going to go to him, and I did.”

An incomplete pass by Watson and a Rory Johnson sack in the last 15 seconds of the game set off a wild celebration from the Gators.

“Last week, they made a statement,” Stevens said of the second half of the Gators’ 49-20 loss to South Pike in which Stevens said he saw a gleam in his players’ eyes. “Tonight was the exclamation point.”

A.J. Hicks got the Gators on the board with an 8-yard touchdown run in the second quarter after the Chargers had taken an 18-0 first-quarter lead. Watson ended with one touchdown run and one pass.

The Gators, the preseason No. 4 team in the state, had lost three of their first four games before the victory over Grenada.

“We worked so hard in practice all week,” Kline said. “We knew deep down that we had to make some big plays and we were able to do that.”