Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

rises in upset of Panthers

Vicksburg High running back Chavous McWhorters runs over Brookhaven linebacker Eric Edwards during the Gators’ 19-13 overtime win on Friday. McWhorters had two touchdown runs in the victory. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post

[9/6/04]The Vicksburg High defense had already done all it could do.

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For four quarters, it had withstood the best punches one of the top teams in the state could dish out. It made plays, survived on sheer luck a time or two, and carried the Gators into overtime against No. 4 Brookhaven.

Now, ahead by only six points and a touchdown meaning almost certain defeat, the defense was called on one last time.

It delivered.

Vicksburg stopped Brookhaven on four straight plays in overtime Friday night, including three passes into the end zone, to secure a 19-13 win. It was a victory won by the defense, which held off nine Brookhaven drives into its territory, forced three turnovers and scored one touchdown.

“This team can keep getting better, because it keeps getting stronger. Right now they don’t care who gets the glory,” VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said. “When we hit the field on Friday night, we know what you’re going to do and we’re going to stop you.”

The Gator offense started the game hot, but simply served as the opening act for the defense.

Vicksburg took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run by Chavous McWhorters for a 6-0 lead with 7:58 to play in the first quarter.

After that, the offense seemed to disappear. It managed just 112 yards the rest of the game and had three more snaps inside Brookhaven territory during regulation. On one second quarter drive, Vicksburg recovered a fumble at the Brookhaven 31 and Cordarryl Gleese gained two yards to the 29-yard line on first down. That was followed by two false starts and a holding penalty that pushed the Gators back to their own 44-yard line. They eventually punted.

“The offensive side of the ball, it was a good turnaround. We still had minor mistakes, which we could prevent and which we’re going to work on this week, but it was much better blocking-wise and running-wise,” said VHS quarterback Eugene Morgan, who ran for 44 yards and was 5-of-14 passing for 70 yards. “But the defense still came to show up, just like they always do.”

Fortunately for the Gators, Brookhaven was having problems of its own. The Panthers played the first half without star quarterback Jimmy Johns, who was suspended for a minor discipline problem at school on Thursday.

Peavey declined to elaborate on the reason for Johns’ suspension, but defended the decision to hold his star quarterback out. Johns finished the game 3-for-15 passing for 23 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. He also ran seven times for 27 yards and was sacked twice.

“I’ll just say this the rules are for everybody, and that’s the way we’re going to play it,” Peavey said. “We still didn’t make plays in the second half, and that’s what we needed to do.”

Brookhaven also had seven penalties for 56 yards in the first half, missed a 37-yard field goal with 4 1/2 minutes to play in the game, and dropped a sure touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

“I’m going to look at the penalties. Obviously, it was a whole bunch for us,” Brookhaven coach Tucker Peavey said. “We still had chances to catch passes and score touchdowns, and we didn’t do it.”

After they were done hurting themselves, the Panthers still had to deal with the Gator defense. It wasn’t about to let Brookhaven get away with all of those mistakes.

With just under 11 minutes to play in the second quarter, Vicksburg’s Raymond Reed came on a blitz and drilled Brookhaven quarterback Brandt Hinton. The ball popped loose and was scooped up by the Gators’ Justin Wells, who returned it 55 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.

Vicksburg made one of its few defensive mistakes on the opening play of the second half, when Panther running back Ronnie McNulty danced through the line and went 76 yards for a touchdown to cut it to 13-6.

The Gators responded on Brookhaven’s next drive, though, when Marcus Harris made an incredible interception inside the 5-yard line. Johns, who started the second half, took a shot at the end zone on second-and-15 from the VHS 40. Harris had his back to the goal line, dived backward and caught the ball as he fell to the turf.

“I didn’t think I was going to catch up to it. I just had to lay out and just go for it, and I got it,” Harris said.

McNulty’s second TD run of the game, an 11-yarder with 11:16 to play in the fourth quarter, tied the game at 13. The Gators hung on by their fingertips through the rest of regulation, then won the game in overtime.

McWhorters had his second 1-yard TD run on the second play of overtime, but the extra point was blocked and the score stayed 19-13.

Johns was hit for a loss on Brookhaven’s first play, and two incompletions followed to set up a fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line. Johns tried to find his go-to receiver, Bud Chatman, in the right side of the end zone but the pass was broken up and Vicksburg had its upset.

“We knew they were going to come to fight, and we just had to keep fighting,” Harris said. “We knew whoever kept fighting the longest was going to win.”