Gators advance to North State|[02/03/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

Records don’t matter in the playoffs.

The Pontotoc Warriors came into Memorial Stadium for their second round Class 4A playoff match with Vicksburg with a 24-1 record. They left with a 1-0 defeat.

Despite a still sub-.500 record, Vicksburg will be playing in its third state semifinal in four years on Tuesday at three-time defending state champion Pearl.

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In four seasons under coach Jason Bennett, the Gators have now won eight times in 11 playoff matches.

“I guess it’s because we step up when we have to,” VHS midfielder Ryan Ferrington said. The junior has been a part of all four of Bennett’s playoff teams.

Bennett wasn’t around to see the final 17 minutes and stoppage time of this one. He was ejected for arguing.

“I guess it was too much talk. I thought it should’ve been our ball. I’ve been tossed for a lot worse. It was called pretty tight. Maybe, too tight for me,” Bennett said.

Vicksburg (10-11-2) was guarding a 1-0 lead, a goal they had gotten from Patrick Parker in the first half. VHS girls coach Kevin Manton took over for Bennett.

“The guys pretty much know what to do. He (Manton) just had to make sub calls. The biggest thing I wanted was another goal. One goal was not enough,” Bennett said.

Pontotoc seemed to get its offense in gear after Bennett’s departure and had its best chances to score in the final 12 minutes. Josh Harlow nearly scored on a 25-yard kick from the left side but Gator keeper Bowen Woodson made a quick hand save.

Harlow then had a 30-yard direct kick with six minutes left, but shanked it badly wide.

The Gators defense then got hit with cards during the next three minutes. Keaton Jones was sent off with a yellow and, with 3:40 left, William Brokaw was ejected after a red card.

In stoppage time, Collin Burchfield was just wide after fielding a throw-in near the Gator goal. Pontotoc had one more good chance when Burchfield set up Harlow with a good pass from the center and 35 yards out, but Harlow hit it too hard and the shot sailed over the goal.

“The shot in front of the goal was close, but it hit off one of our guys’ leg,” said Woodson, who finished with eight saves. The Warriors had 12 shots. One was blocked by Vicksburg’s Brian Fitzgerald, two went wide and Harlow’s last shot missed high.

The Gators got off 13 shots. Will Robbins made nine saves for the Warriors. One, a shot by Perry Tolliver, went off the crossbar two minutes into the second half. Two others went wide and the other was the goal by Parker which came with 8:03 left in the first half.

“Caleb (White) played the ball to me and I got a shot from about 10 yards behind the 18-yard mark. I made one like that against Ridgeland,” Parker said.

“Their No. 1 (Parker) came up with a tremendous goal from 28 yards out,” Pontotoc coach Marty Pettitt said. “He knocked it to the back of the net. It was a well-placed shot. My keeper was in the right place. That was just a great shot.”

Bennett said he didn’t know what to expect from the Warriors.

“They were better than I thought they’d be. I know they were 24-1 and such, but I didn’t know what to expect because I haven’t seen the teams up there play,” Bennett said.

The Gators will now face a Pearl team that they are all too familiar with. The Pirates beat VHS twice this season, by identical 3-0 scores. In both games, Pearl scored in the first five minutes.

Pearl beat Oxford 5-2 in Saturday’s other North State semifinal.