Gators win South State|[2/4/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 4, 2005

Vicksburg High will play Saturday for a Class 5A state championship.

But this time, it won’t be the Missy Gators playing for their sixth state title.

The Vicksburg boys team, who won their first-ever playoff game against Picayune almost two weeks ago, continued their magical run through the playoffs with a 4-3 overtime victory over No. 6 Oak Grove on Thursday.

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The win propels the Gators (14-9-2) into Saturday’s state title game against No. 9 Clinton, a 2-0 winner over Brandon, at 4 p.m.

“This is just one more test we had to get over,” said VHS senior Tyler Dement, who scored a goal and had an assist in his final home game. “Saturday will be the last step.

“We’ve been doubted all year and nobody ever expected us to get this far. Now we are in the state championship and we still have some more surprises.”

The Gators lost to Clinton 3-0 in their only meeting of the season in December.

“We are a completely different team now,” first-year Gators coach Jason Bennett said.

Vicksburg jumped on Oak Grove with two first-half goals by Michael Cooper and Dement to take a 2-0 halftime lead. Matt Minyard beat Oak Grove goalie Tyler Ivy 12 minutes into the second half for a 3-0 Gators’ lead.

“They’ve done that all year. They don’t take a lot of shots but the ones they do take, they put in the back of the net,” Oak Grove coach Jess Lang said. “That’s the way they play.”

But Oak Grove stormed back, scoring three goals in the final 28 minutes to send the game into overtime. In the playoffs, teams play two 10-minute overtime periods, then would have moved to a shootout if the teams were tied at the end of the second overtime.

While the Warriors (18-6-1) had momentum from their second-half comeback, it was the Gators who struck first.

Two minutes into the overtime, Dement crossed a pass to Eric Holland, who drove a diving header into the back of the goal for the go-ahead score.

“Tyler gave me a good ball across and I just dove and it went in,” Holland said. “It was huge. It changed the momentum right back to our side.”

Bennett, who roamed the sidelines and said he nearly had a heart attack during the overtime, said Holland’s goal was part of what makes the Gators so tough.

“I’ve never seen him do that all year. I’ve never seen him shoot a ball like that much less a diving header,” Bennett said. “You never know who’s going to score.”

After Vicksburg went ahead 4-3, the Gators played keepaway from Oak Grove, trying desperately to keep the dangerous Warriors’ scorers out of their end. Oak Grove still ripped off six shots in the overtime, and had two golden chances inside the final seconds. One shot was saved by eighth-grade Vicksburg goalie Ryan Ferrington and the other sailed wide of the net.

“We had come back from three down, so it wasn’t much being one more down in overtime,” Lang said. “If we get a break here, a break there we stick it in the back of the net. Vicksburg just kept kicking it away.”

Oak Grove outshot Vicksburg 18-12, but Ferrington made 10 saves and senior sweeper Coleman Morrison had several key clears, especially in overtime.

Bennett said he will probably practice with the team indoors this afternoon instead of giving them a day to rest. His team had been forced to practice inside all week because of bad weather.

“We have to come out and play like we did tonight,” Cooper said. “No one expects us to be here, and once we got here people still take us lightly. We’ve accepted the role as underdog because we’ve been underdogs every game in the playoffs.”