Gators win back-to-back games over Vikings for first time in series history

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2008

Slowly, methodically, Warren Central worked its way down the field in the closing minutes Friday night.

As the Vikings advanced inside the 30-yard line, then the 20 and finally the 10 of Vicksburg High, it didn’t seem like a game-winning drive as much as a prelude to one final showdown. Offense vs. defense. Strength vs. strength, with a week’s worth of hard work and a lifetime of bragging rights at stake.

As the final snap found its way back to WC quarterback Keaton Sanders, there was no doubt what he would do with it. He turned to his left and handed it to workhorse tailback Joel Forbes. Forbes took the handoff and sprinted through the hole toward the goal line that was just six feet away.

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And then, as the excitement started to dance in his head, a green monster ruined the party. Then another, and another. Vicksburg linebacker Carlos Williams met Forbes in the hole on the fourth-and-goal play, his teammates stacked up the hulking tailback, and the Gators escaped Memorial Stadium with a heartstopping 7-0 win.

“I told my defensive line to cut everybody down. They looked at me and said, ‘You got him?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I got him,’” said Williams, the reigning Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year. “I told them I’m going to put them on my back.”

The win was Vicksburg’s second in a row, and third in four years — all shutouts — in a series that had been dominated by Warren Central. This marked the first time in the 28-year history of the rivalry that the Gators have won two in a row, and it was their first win at home against WC since 2002.

It also capped a remarkable run in the rivalry for the Gators’ 30 seniors. Since junior high, they’ve gone 5-1 against WC.

“We never felt like they could ever beat us. We don’t know how it feels to lose to them,” Williams said.

Like last year’s game, a 7-0 VHS victory at Viking Stadium, this edition was dominated by defense. WC had just 231 yards of total offense, Vicksburg 162. And the dramatic ending was set up by a nice defensive play by the Vikings.

Holding a 7-0 lead with just under six minutes to play, VHS quarterback Les Lemons scrambled for a first down. As he was being tackled, however, the ball was knocked out of his hand and caught out of the air by WC’s Tim Jones. Jones returned it 17 yards to the VHS 31, and the Vikings started their do-or-die march with 5:26 to play.

“It tore me up on the inside,” Lemons, who ran for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, said of the fumble.

Forbes, who carried the ball 31 times for 133 yards, ran three straight times to move the ball to the VHS 22, and an offsides call on fourth-and-1 gave WC a first down. Two more carries took it inside the 10, as the Vikings made it first-and-goal with just over a minute to play.

Vicksburg’s defense stiffened until it was fourth-and-goal from the 2 1/2-yard line with 35 seconds left. WC lined up in the same power-I formation it had used most of the night, and handed to Forbes. He was stopped a yard short of the goal line, first by Williams and then by a host of green jerseys.

The stop took the weight of the world off Lemons’ shoulders.

“I trust them so much,” he said of his defense. “I looked at that yardage and said there’s no way they’re scoring this touchdown.”

For Warren Central, it was a devastating stop. Running back Marvell Hunter lay sprawled on the ground as the Gators celebrated. Others slumped off the field moments later, after the final whistle, as Vicksburg’s players sprinted to midfield.

Warren Central coach Curtis Brewer said there was no question in his mind about the final play call.

“That’s your horse. You ride the baby that brought you,” he said.

Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens, meanwhile, said he relished the final series.

“This is what you want. They’re doing what they do best and we’re doing what we do best. Your 11 against my 11,” Stevens said.

While Lemons’ fumble nearly turned the outcome of the game, an earlier fumble kept the Gators’ momentum in check. After a 14-yard touchdown run by Lemons with 10:01 left in the second quarter put VHS ahead 7-0, WC emabarked on a nearly 8-minute drive into Gator territory.

Starting at their own 8-yard line, WC took 13 plays — the first 10 without a receiver on the field — to reach the VHS 32. Forbes then took a handoff up the middle, but was hit and fumbled at the 30. Vicksburg’s Harold Pickett returned it 75 yards for an apparent touchdown, but an illegal block negated the score that would have given the Gators a two-touchdown lead.

Vicksburg still retained possession, but ended up punting.

“It was large. That was the nail in the coffin, almost. It would have taken them into a game they didn’t want to play,” Stevens said.

The drive was one of three for WC that lasted more than five minutes and netted nothing. WC opened the second half with a 6-minute march that ended in a missed field goal, and then had the final drive stopped on downs at the 1.

In all, Warren Central had the ball for 28 minutes and 38 seconds.

“We waited too late to get ourselves started. We had a terrible week to prepare. What we’ve got to do is regroup and go back to practice,” Brewer said. “We never caught any passes. We dropped too many. The opportunities were presented to us and we didn’t capitalize.”