Special teams key cog for Vikings, Gators|[09/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2007

Part of the fun of watching Vicksburg and Warren Central play in any year is the matchups and chess games between coaching staffs.

Vicksburg’s potent offense vs. the Vikings’ sound defensive schemes. WC’s trademark smashmouth running game against the Gators’ speedy defense. Coaches with college experience on the Vicksburg sideline, and coaches who have been on the WC sideline longer than some of their players’ fathers have been alive.

When the teams meet on Friday, though, the game just might be decided not in the trenches or in the vertical passing game, but on things as mundane as punts and kickoffs.

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Both WC and Vicksburg showed a knack for making huge special teams plays in their Red Carpet Bowl openers last week, and Friday’s game between the Warren County rivals could come down to that most overlooked phase.

“I would imagine special teams are going to be like any other game. They’re going to play a big role in the outcome,” Warren Central head coach Curtis Brewer said. “When you get long runs on special teams, it adds a little momentum and excitement. It adds energy to the team. It allowed us to stay in the game against Panola.”

And to almost pull off an epic upset. WC’s Ben Wau Caples returned the free kick following a third-quarter safety 70 yards for a touchdown. His fellow returnman, Joe Harris, had a 50-yard return earlier in the period that didn’t lead to any points.

Jared Thames also kicked a field goal, and Heath Carroll helped the Vikings out of trouble by averaging 40 yards per punt on six attempts. One of Carroll’s punts pinned South Panola inside its own 5 and set up the safety.

The strong performance was a needed shot in the arm for a team that managed only 61 yards of offense in a 31-18 loss. It was also an encouraging sign that there will be special teams life after the loss of all-state kicker Eric Richards, now a freshman at Mississippi State.

“If our special teams do like they did last year, it’s going to be a big thing for us,” Caples said.

Vicksburg was as good, if not better on special teams in its 28-17 loss to Clarksdale.

The Gators had two kick returns longer than 40 yards, recovered a surprise onsides kick, and blocked two punts in the fourth quarter. Ryan Ferrington also drilled a 29-yard field goal for their first points of the season.

All told, the Gators’ special teams gave the offense the ball at their own 40-yard line or better on seven of their nine possessions in the game.

“What we showed against Clarksdale is that we can put a lot of pressure on your punt and kickoff teams because of our speed,” Vicksburg special teams coach Bobby Huell said. “The two blocked punts we got in the second half were set up because we had Cordell Watkins on the outside. While he didn’t block the punt, it allowed Carlos Williams to come up the middle and get the block.”

The Gators did have some mistakes. They had a field goal blocked late in the game, Watkins slipped down on one kickoff return, and Clarksdale returned the opening kickoff 61 yards to set up its first touchdown.

Clarksdale averaged 38 yards on three kickoff returns, a stat that was troubling for Huell with the threat posed this week by WC’s twin speedsters Harris and Caples.

“We still had some breakdowns on our end. We had one on a kick off return and we had a field goal get blocked. But those are some things we worked on this week,” Huell said. “We know Warren Central has got two good kids back there doing their returns. Both of them had big returns against Panola.”