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Brookhaven sitting where Vicksburg once sat

Vicksburg running back Cordarryl Gleese, left, is hit by Gulfport’s Charrick Mitchell during the Gators’ 20-8 Red Carpet Bowl loss. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[9/3/04]Alonzo Stevens could probably give Brookhaven coach Tucker Peavey a few lessons on the perils of being a highly ranked team.

Two years ago, it was Stevens’ Vicksburg Gators who were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. VHS stumbled, of course, losing to eventual state champion Wayne County in the Red Carpet Bowl and finished 8-4 with a first-round playoff loss to Horn Lake.

Last season, VHS started the season ranked No. 4. It lost to Southaven in the season-opener, went 7-5, and suffered another first-round playoff loss.

Brookhaven, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll and No. 1 by The Clarion-Ledger, passed its first test with a 22-6 win over Hazlehurst last week. Stevens and the unranked Gators would love to make sure the Panthers fail their second test when the teams meet tonight at Memorial Stadium.

“This is David vs. Goliath this week. But we’ll be in there,” Stevens said. “How many teams get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the state? You take it as a challenge and as a measuring stick.”

The Gators measured up last season, claiming a 55-47, triple-overtime win at Brookhaven. That was with a veteran-laden squad, however, many of whom have gone on to play college football.

Brookhaven has nearly every starter back from that game 16 in all and is a favorite to challenge for the Class 4A state championship. Led by senior defensive lineman Jessie Bowman, the Panthers are quick and tenacious on defense.

They’ve also handled the pressure and the expectations well, Peavey said.

“You can’t get it out of your mind, so you deal with it,” Peavey said of the high ranking. “You just try and go out and go to work every day like it’s always been.”

The Gators, meanwhile, struggled on offense in their opener. They managed just 194 yards of total offense in a 20-8 loss to Gulfport and made several crushing mistakes that allowed Gulfport to score easy points.

“We looked at the film and saw we did some things that hurt ourselves,” Stevens said. “Against a good football team, you can’t do that.”

VHS quarterback Eugene Morgan, who was 4-of-14 passing for 29 yards against Gulfport, with two interceptions had confidence in the Gators’ offense. Vicksburg rushed for 165 yards against Gulfport, and Morgan felt the team’s speed could put up similar numbers against Brookhaven.

“I think we can run on them. We’ve got a lot of speed and can work the corners,” Morgan said. “I heard their defense was pretty good, but our offense is pretty good. We’ll just have to go at it like that.”

For its part, Brookhaven showed the kind of balance a championship team needs in last week’s win over Hazlehurst.

Senior quarterback Jimmy Johns was just 1-for-12 passing for 16 yards.

Running back Ronald McNulty picked up the slack, though, rushing for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brookhaven led 19-0 at halftime and cruised to the win.

“Since them coming in being No. 1, it’s a big opportunity,” Morgan said. “We beat them, and people will look at us all over again.”