Vicksburg defense leads push to playoffs|[11/10/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2005

The numbers through 10 regular season games seem to back up Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens’ contention that Gators have put together an outstanding defense this season.

It’s a unit that is coming off its best game of the season after limiting Murrah to just 38 yards in total offense in last week’s 34-0 blanking at Memorial Stadium. And its also a unit that the Gators are hoping can solidify a 5A playoff berth with a win Friday at archrival Warren Central.

&#8220Our defense has been excellent and it’s as good a defense as you’ll find in the state of Mississippi,” Stevens said. &#8220They’ve given great effort all year.”

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In 10 games, the Gators (6-4) have allowed their opponents just 174 yards per game in total offense. They’ve allowed opposing runners 125 yards per game while opposing quarterbacks have managed only 49 yards per game through the air.

VHS defensive coordinator David Tadlock said the unit’s rise this season can be credited to a system Stevens brought to the program from Alcorn State.

&#8220The overall system he implemented three springs ago has really come around this fall,” Tadlock said. &#8220We started pretty elementary in it, having the guys carry the fronts on wrist bands.

&#8220Now, we can run two different defenses. We have an odd front and and an even front, it just depends on the personnel we’re playing. Having taught the 3-4 as a college coordinator at Alcorn, coach Stevens brought that with him. But the four-man line has been good for us and we’ve had our best success with our even defense.”

It also helps to have players who can make plays.

Vicksburg’s two inside linebackers, seniors Quartez Ashmore and Harold Knight, are the two mainstays. Ashmore leads the team with 99 tackles while Knight has 83.

&#8220It’s all of us playing together and being on the same page,” Knight said. &#8220We know our game plan.”

The Gators’ plan has been to play tough against the run and create turnovers in the secondary. They’ve done just by forcing 21 turnovers this season, including 13 interceptions.

&#8220Our whole D-line and our linebackers have stepped up and it’s made it better for the secondary,” said senior defensive back Willis McGowan, who has become the Gators’ game-breaker with seven interceptions, three of those he returned for touchdowns.

&#8220There is no doubt, Willis, is the best defensive back in 5A football,” Stevens said. &#8220He’s very special. Seven interceptions, over 200 yards in returns and three TDs. Not only that, but he can play either corner, strong safety or free safety. He’s the total package.”

The Gators have also benefited from a pair of transfers, Gerald Mims from Porters Chapel Academy and nose guard Ryan Walker, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee from G.W. Carver in New Orleans.

&#8220Our secondary has made the biggest stride this season and having Gerald in there has solidified that group,” Tadlock said.

Mims, a 171-pound senior, plays the Gator position which in Tadlock’s lingo is a combination linebacker/safety.

&#8220I do what the coaches ask me to do,” Mims said. &#8220I feel pretty comfortable in the position. We’re playing as one.

&#8220It’s been said the difference between Warren Central and us is that Vicksburg has no discipline and no unity. Well, we have had both of those things, most of the time, this year,” Mims said.

Walker, meanwhile, has provided power on the interior.

&#8220Ryan has given us more depth up front,” Tadlock said. &#8220He gives us the depth we haven’t had before and it allows us to keep guys like Trey Curtis and Brian Pierce fresh.”

During his junior season in New Orleans, Walker played along side a tackle who is now at Michigan State. But he is quick to point out that the 5A ball in Mississippi is just as good.

&#8220We had playmakers in New Orleans, but I think here, the whole defense can make plays. What I’ve seen is 11 playmakers,” Walker said.

A win Friday would hand the Gators a playoff berth and a date with No. 1 ranked South Panola. Walker is one guy who has seen the nation’s 11th ranked team up close.

&#8220At Carver, we played them twice. They beat us 49-7 last year. Two years ago in New Orleans, they only beat us 42-32. I’d like to get another shot at them,” he said.