Gators, West Point reeling from blowout losses last Friday

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

Vicksburg High wide receiver Ben Shelton looks upfield for yards after taking a handoff against Warren Central on Friday. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[11/14/03]The Vicksburg Gators were humiliated, wounded, and humbled last week. Nothing went right, they lost their best defensive player, and missed a chance to win their first region title in nearly 20 years.

Yet, after all that, they’re still standing.

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Vicksburg (7-4) will host West Point (8-3) tonight in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. Both teams are trying to regroup from tough losses to end the regular season West Point was routed 48-7 by top-ranked South Panola.

“It’s real easy, because that game didn’t hurt us,” VHS linebacker Ray Kline said of shaking off the 35-6 loss to Warren Central. “We’ve still got a home game here. We just have to focus and get ready for West Point.”

While the Gators try to bounce back from one disappointment, they’ll also look to avoid a repeat of another.

One year ago, VHS was a favorite to win the state title but slipped up in the first round against Horn Lake. This group of Gators is far removed from that night, however.

Injuries hit VHS hard last week, taking standout linebacker Rory Johnson and kicker Sean McGowan out of action for the foreseeable future with knee injuries. Running back and linebacker A.J. Hicks missed most of the Warren Central game with a hip pointer, but will play tonight.

The loss of Johnson will be the toughest for the Gators to swallow. He was second on the team with 80 tackles and three sacks, and often drew double-teams that opened things up for the rest of the defense.

VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said Johnson’s injury may not be as serious as first thought, but he would not play this week.

“We haven’t found out anything definite on Rory, but he won’t be ready for this game,” Stevens said. “That’s going to throw a wrinkle in our game. This time of year, people are going to have to step up.

“That’s part of the game. You can’t protect that. We have been very fortunate to be as healthy as we have been up until now.”

West Point, on the other hand, comes into the game looking to build for the future. The Green Wave advanced to the Class 4A championship game last season before moving up to 5A this year, and is loaded with young players.

As many as five sophomores could be starting for West Point’s defense, Green Wave coach David Allen said. That’s a sharp contrast to Vicksburg, which starts eight seniors on the defensive side of the ball.

“I’d rather be going into the playoffs with a bunch of seniors than young kids, but that speaks well for the future maybe,” West Point coach David Allen said.

Allen’s biggest concern with his young players was stopping the Gators’ offense. Vicksburg uses a lot of wing formations that utilize misdirection and fakes, which may confuse some inexperienced defenders.

The sheer number of weapons the Gators possess four backs have at least 200 rushing yards this season and quarterback James Jackson has thrown for nearly 1,400 yards may also be a problem.

“They can run the ball with (Johnathan Wilson), (Hicks), (Maurice Taylor) can fly, and (Michael Rainey) is a good back. They’re deceptive. They use misdirection and flow to the football, and it’s hard to follow it,” Allen said. “You’re going to have to read, and that’s a concern of mine with the young linebackers.”