Tupelo shuts down Warren Central, 3-0

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Warren Central senior running back Larry Warner is overcome with emotion as Ryan Williams (4) holds his hands to his helmet following the top-seeded Vikings’ 3-0 loss to Tupelo in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs. Warner was held to 67 yards rushing on 18 carries. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/13/04] For an instant, it seemed like everything would be OK.

As if, despite the drops and the penalties and the mistakes, this last desperate drive would succeed where the others had failed. That Warren Central would find a way to pull this game out like it has so many others in its rich history.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Then, in an instant, nothing was right in the world.

The kick the Vikings had worked so hard to try was deflected at the line. It fluttered into the cold drizzle, struggling to find a way over the crossbar. All it found was the last few squares of red and white checkerboard in the end zone. And as it bounced feebly toward the darkened track beyond, it was greeted by the sudden silence of a thousand formerly screaming fans.

Tupelo blocked Joey Bonelli’s 24-yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds remaining Friday night, stunning Warren Central with a 3-0 victory in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

It’s the second straight season WC (10-2) has lost a first-round playoff game at Viking Stadium. And just like last season, this loss hit with the force of a sledgehammer to the gut.

“It always hurts us,” WC coach Curtis Brewer said. “We feel like we’re a family. And when something bad happens in the family, it always hurts.”

For three quarters, WC and Tupelo did their best to wear out the grass in the middle of the field.

They combined for 149 yards of total offense in the first half, and neither team advanced past their opponents’ 35-yard line until Tupelo’s Phillip Loyd returned a punt 35 yards to the WC 30 in the final minute of the third quarter. That set up the first real scoring chance of the game, a 46-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Martin that was just short.

The lack of offense had as much to do with poor offensive play as it did good defense. While neither defense was allowing much, Tupelo (6-6) turned the ball over three times and WC dropped a half-dozen passes.

It was a frustrating scene for the WC defense, which held Tupelo to 152 yards in the game but had nothing to show for it.

“This is real tough, when your defense is playing and your offense can’t do a thing out there for you,” said WC cornerback Otis Stamps, who had one interception on the night. “They’ve got to come on there with it just like the defense. The offense didn’t do nothing tonight. The defense did all we could.”

The Vikings also had to deal with an injury to star running back Larry Warner. A tackler rolled over his already sore ankle in the second quarter, leaving him with one good leg to elude a defense bent on stopping him.

Warner returned from the injury in the second half, but Tupelo dogged him all night and held the 1,800-yard rusher to just 67 yards on 18 carries.

“We bottled up a real good running back, and I want to give credit to our defensive coaches,” Tupelo coach Eric Collins said. “They had a great gameplan, and we seemed to beat them to the punch. We knew what they were going to do before they got off to do it.”

After Martin’s missed field goal, WC went three-and-out and punted to Tupelo with just under 11 minutes to play in the game.

On the next play, Tony Osborne broke the longest run of the night by either team. He hit the corner and broke several tackles on the way to a 33-yard run to give the Golden Wave a first down at the Viking 26.

Tupelo moved the ball to the WC 21 before stalling, then caught a break. Dexter Carson was flagged for a personal foul, giving Tupelo another first down at the 10-yard line. Eric Collins played for three points, and sophomore kicker Clint Alford trotted onto the field three plays later.

Alford kicked the ball cleanly through the uprights for a 24-yard field goal, putting Tupelo ahead 3-0 with 6:47 remaining.

“They don’t really trust me with kicking past 45 (yards) yet, so they let (Martin) kick the deep ones,” Alford said with a laugh. “I’ve kicked one in ninth grade that was just like it. The only big thing was the right hash. I hate the right hash. That was the only reason I was nervous at all.”

WC got the ball back twice in the next 4 1/2 minutes, but failed to produce a first down both times.

Re-energized after Jonathan Nash recovered a fumble at midfield late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings finally started to move the football. Warner went off the right side for 10 yards, and a late hit at the end of the play gave WC another 15. A short run and a face mask penalty moved it to the Tupelo 20, and an 8-yard burst by fullback Jesse Pedyfoot put them in striking distance.

Then the drive stalled.

Two runs by Warner gave WC a third-and-5 at the 7-yard line, then a pass fell incomplete and the kicking team came onto the field with 14 seconds to play.

Bonelli’s kick was a line drive that barely cleared the line. A Tupelo defender got his hand up to deflect it, and the ball fell short of the goal post. Tupelo quarterback Rod Zinn took a knee to end the game.

“Everything went down slow. The snap was good, the hold was good. I guess I stuttered. Maybe. I don’t know,” Bonelli said of the blocked field goal. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”