Gators open region play with Grenada

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 2004

Vicksburg quarterback Eugene Morgan (10) tries to break the grasp of a Brookhaven defender in their Sept. 3 game. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[9/24/04]The six minutes that saved the season.

Last year’s Vicksburg-Grenada game will be remembered for the heroics of James Jackson and Ben Shelton. The pair of Gators connected for three touchdowns over the final six minutes to spark a miraculous 27-24 comeback win over undefeated and eighth-ranked Grenada.

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“James threw a couple of good balls to Ben and that’s what changed the game around and possibly our season,” VHS tight end Sean Gibbs said.

The victory transformed a 1-3 Vicksburg team into a playoff contender as the Gators ran off six consecutive wins in Region 2-5A. The Chargers stumbled again when they faced Warren Central and finished the season third in the region.

Vicksburg is hoping the Chargers don’t have revenge in mind when the Gators travel to Grenada for both teams’ region opener tonight at 7:30.

“To be playing them on their home turf and seeing how they lost in the fourth quarter, I’d expect them to have a lot of revenge on their shoulders,” Gibbs said. “We’ve just got to stay focused and play our game.”

Grenada coach John McCrory was hesitant to say his team is out for payback.

“Anytime you lose one like that, you’d like to come back and win,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d call it revenge, though.”

Both teams enter the game coming off tough losses to ranked opponents. The Gators stumbled in the fourth quarter to fall 30-10 to No. 7 South Pike last week. The Chargers lost 21-3 to No. 12 Olive Branch.

All teams want to win every time they play, but both sides know how important it is to win the region opener.

“This is our first district game and these are the ones that count. That’s going to be the motivating factor on both sides,” VHS coach Alonzo Stevens said. “Somebody’s going to be 0-1 in the district, somebody’s going to be 1-0. You want to come out the blocks good in the district because we’ve got a tough district.”

A lot has changed for both teams since last year’s memorable meeting.

Vicksburg (2-2) lost 19 starters on offense and defense, including both Jackson and Shelton. Grenada (3-1) lost 23 seniors to graduation and returns four players on both sides of the ball.

Both sides have struggled on offense breaking in new quarterbacks as well. Johnny Allen leads the Chargers’ attack, which will be more conservative than last year.

“We’re fairly young and we’re still searching for an identity on offense,” McCrory said. “We still throw, we’re just not quite as explosive as last year.”

The Gators are also going through growing pains on offense with new quarterback Eugene Morgan, who is 19-for-47 for 255 passing yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Vicksburg has reached 20 points only once this season, and that was in a 52-6 thumping of lowly Natchez.

This week, the Vicksburg coaches trimmed down the playbook in an effort to improve the offense’s execution.

“We cut a few things out,” said Gibbs, the lone returning starter on offense from last season. “A couple of things weren’t going right for us. That’s what we’re working on right now is just getting those kinks out of our offense.”

Stevens said Morgan has shown steady improvement with each game and he expects a strong showing tonight.

“He’s coming 100 miles a game. I think he’s ready to turn a corner,” he said. “With the schedule we’ve played, you grow up in a hurry. He’s faced some pretty good football teams. I think he’s seen everything that you can put at him with the blitzes and the pressure. Every week he’s handled it a little better.”

Stevens added that the team as a whole is better at this point in the season than it was last year, despite the offensive struggles.

“We could easily be 4-0, I feel. We’ve played some good football,” he said. “We’ve played good enough to be 4-0, except for a mistake here and some turnovers. And turnovers are going to win.”