Turnovers spelled doom for Gators in matchup with No. 1 South Panola

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 1, 2008

The crowd was jumping. The sideline, rocking. Vicksburg High quarterback Les Lemons had just broken a 15-yard run on the first play of the game. Thoughts of upsetting mighty South Panola didn’t seem so much a possibility as they did a certainty.

And then, in an instant, the excitement was gone. An ugly interception on the next play, the first of four first-half turnovers by the Gators, was a harbinger of things to come. Vicksburg hurt itself with the miscues the entire game and eventually lost to the five-time defending Class 5A champion Tigers, 27-6, in the Red Carpet Bowl on Friday.

Despite the loss and the dreadful night on offense — the Gators only had 165 total yards, and two of the four turnovers came inside their own 20-yard line — coach Alonzo Stevens tried to focus on the positive. His defense kept the Gators in the game until the final minutes, and they led for most of the first half. That made the loss, disappointing as it was, a little easier to take.

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“I’m proud of these guys. They went toe to toe with the best program in the state,” Stevens said. “We did some things that hurt ourselves. If they continue to work like they’ve been, we’ll be all right.”

One bright spot for Vicksburg was its defense. Although South Panola picked on VHS’ secondary by throwing deep nearly a dozen times, the Gators kept Panola from scoring on four of five red zone trips in the first half. Three of those drives were set up by Vicksburg turnovers.

South Panola finally scored on its fifth red zone trip, as David Renfroe tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Lee with 1:35 left in the half. Renfroe tossed another touchdown pass 17 seconds later, and a third on the opening possession of the second half, as the Tigers opened up a 21-6 lead. They didn’t score again until the final minute, however, as Vicksburg forced two punts and a turnover on downs the next three possessions.

The Gators also forced two first-half turnovers and had a third negated by a quick whistle in the second half. Late in the third quarter, a shotgun snap sailed over the head of Renfroe and scooted backward when he fell on it. Vicksburg’s Jarvis Jones appeared to recover it near midfield, but officials ruled Renfroe had possession when he fell on it and blew the play dead.

“They did a great job stopping the run. You win ballgames by stopping the run,” Stevens said. “Defense is what you win championships with. That’s why I’ve got a smile on my face.”

Now the Gators will have to regroup for another huge game. They host archrival Warren Central on Friday night, looking for their third win in the series in the last four years.

Tight end Kurt Cooksey said facing WC was exactly what the Gators needed to avoid a letdown after the loss to South Panola.

“That will set you back on pace. Warren Central, enough said. Nobody wants to lose to them,” Cooksey said.