Shelton shines in Gators’ time of need

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

Vicksburg High’s Ben Shelton battles for yards as a pair of South Pike players converge during the Eagles’ 49-20 win over the Gators two weeks ago. Vicksburg is coming off a 27-24 win over Grenada. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[10/3/03]Ben Shelton had seen enough.

Grenada’s defenders played single, man-to-man coverage on Vicksburg’s wide receivers all night. Losing 24-7 in the fourth quarter of last Friday’s game, Shelton finally approached coach Alonzo Stevens.

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“I wanted to say something to Coach (earlier),” Shelton said. “But I don’t know, the running game was working and we were doing all right, playing good defense and everything. Then, at the end it was close to the game, and I just finally had the nerve in the fourth quarter to say something.”

Hooking up five times with quarterback James Jackson, Shelton torched the Grenada defense for 134 yards and two touchdowns during the final stretch. The Gators scored three times in six minutes to win 27-24.

“I didn’t want to sound selfish, but I was just like, Throw me the ball,'” Shelton said. “They had one-on-one all night, and they can’t hold me one-on-one with no safety over top.”

Shelton and Jackson have developed a series of hand motions to signal hot routes based on the defense’s coverage.

The two have worked on their communication all week in preparation for tonight’s game against Region 2-5A rival Clinton (1-4, 0-1).

“We’ve been practicing that,” Shelton said. “Coach would tell us to go to the line and make James read the defense and have us read each other.”

Last year, Clinton heavily blitzed Vicksburg, putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make quick throws. Knowing that, it’s important for Shelton and the other receivers to have short, check-down routes if they see a blitz coming.

Clinton coach Pete Hurt said the situation will dictate what style of defense his team will play.

“We’ll try to mix it up some, because when you blitz, you give up big plays,” Hurt said.

Hurt thinks the key to stopping the Gators (2-3, 1-0) is not letting them get the ball.

“We need to control the football and keep them off the field,” he said. “They’re a threat to make a big play at any time.”

But Clinton has a big-play threat of its own in senior tailback Paul Cavett. The bruising back has rushed for 100 yards in four of the Arrows’ five games.

“He’s kind of our go-to guy,” Hurt said of Cavett. “He’s got some size and good, but not great, speed. He’s also durable. He gets around 19-20 carries a game.”

Cavett works around a young team as Clinton has six seniors this season, and four returning starters on offense.

“We have to learn to grow up and learn to play together. It’s just inexperience,” Hurt said.

The youth has shown in the close scores of Clinton’s last two losses 17-14 to Northwest Rankin and 21-18 to Madison Central.

“They’re going to have a well-disciplined team, a hard-playing team, a good football team,” VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said. “They kind of mirror us. They just have had bad breaks here and there.”

The Gators, on the other hand, finally seemed to get everyone on the same page a week ago and appear poised to make a strong run through regional play.

“The execution was there on offense, defense, special teams,” Stevens said. “We’ve got (kicker) Sean McGowan back this week. We’re at 100 percent, so that’s all we can ask for at this time of year.”

Despite the win, Stevens still hopes to see more consistency from his team from beginning to end.

“If we don’t play and do the things we’re supposed to do, anybody can beat us,” he said. “We’ve been there, had that happen.

“I think we’re real humble right now.”

Both Stevens and Shelton know not to overlook the Arrows because when Clinton and Vicksburg square off, it will always be a battle.

“It’s a real big game,” Shelton said. “It’s our second-biggest rivalry, next to Warren Central. It’s always a big game, no matter what, even if both teams are struggling.”