Vikings, Gators face formidable challenges as state playoffs begin|[01/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Both of Warren Central’s playoff-bound soccer teams got what amounted to a free playoff preview Saturday for tonight’s Class 5A opening round foe Northwest Rankin.

What they gleamed from the contests at Millsaps College is that they want the rematches to be played at Northwest Rankin’s football field in Brandon.

“The smaller field, length wise, will be more in line with the strategy we want to use against them,” WC boys coach Greg Head said Monday. His Vikings (10-10-1) lost 3-0 to the Cougars at Millsaps. Head feels tonight’s game, which follows the WC girls and Lady Cougar playoff match at 5:30, could be different at NWR’s high school soccer field.

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“It’s just so wide at Millsaps and the one thing we saw where Northwest Rankin was really strong at was their outside midfielders. They have a lot of speed in those positions and a lot depth, too. They’ve got Division I players just about everywhere, but their outside mids were really good.”

Northwest (20-2-4) has lost to only to Pascagoula (1-0) and Tupelo (2-1). They’ve tied Jackson Prep (twice), Clinton and Jackson Academy. They also own a 3-0 win over Vicksburg High at Memorial Stadium and the 3-0 win over WC from Saturday.

“We played them more straight-up Saturday and there are some things we’ll do different (tonight), especially on a shorter field. If we can keep the scoring down, we’ve got a chance,” Head said.

The Vikings are led by Heath Carroll and Sean McRaney in goals scored, while Andrew Sandoz will be in the net.

The Lady Vikes face an equally daunting challenge against the Division 4-5A champions.

First-year WC coach Janet McMaster says she’s praying the rain stays away long enough so that tonight’s playoff match with stay in Brandon and not head back to Millsaps.

“Millsaps is so much bigger and we’re such a young team. I think the more compact field at Northwest would make it harder on them,” McMaster said.

The Lady Cougars (19-4) defeated WC (9-7-5) 4-0 on Saturday at Millsaps.

“I’ll be praying the rain stays away long enough, at least past 9 p.m.,” McMaster said.

The benefit for the Lady Vikes was to see the Lady Cougars up close.

“We’ll play them differently. Chelsea Duett will move back to sweeper. We played her up on offense against them. I thought we held them down pretty well. They didn’t get the first goal until the last five minutes of the half,” McMaster said.

The Vicksburg High boys, the only other playoff-bound county team, has the longest road to travel as it makes a four-hour bus ride to Caledonia, a town north of Columbus.

Vicksburg (8-11-2) has been a playoff force the past three years in 5A, making the 5A final in 2005, the semifinals in 2006 and the second round last year. Gators coach Jason Bennett feels his team has played a stronger overall schedule.

“I saw Northeast Lauderdale and they split with them and needed to beat them by two goals to win the division on the last day,” Bennett said.

Caledonia beat Northeast 5-3 on Saturday to win Division 4-4A. Vicksburg, meanwhile, is coming off its best game of the season, a 2-0 win over Ridgeland last week in Vicksburg.

“That was a really good, hard fought game, very intense and we also played one before that in the Pearl Tournament where we beat Gautier 1-0. I think Gautier has a good chance at coming out of the south,” Bennett said.

A win would put the Gators in the second round against the winner of the Pontotoc-Lafayette match on Saturday. VHS is led by its top scorers Ryan Ferrington and Patrick Parker. Bowen Woodson is the keeper.