VHS opens region play at Callaway|Game at Newell Field

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2008

With a speedy quarterback, scary receivers, huge offensive linemen and plenty of seniors, Vicksburg High’s offense has long been feared by opposing coaches.

Its defense is starting to make a name for itself, too.

The Gators have allowed one touchdown — as many as they’ve scored on defense — in their last two games. That followed a strong performance in the season opener against South Panola, when turnovers constantly put them in bad positions. The effort of the defense has allowed Vicksburg to thrive while the offense finds its rhythm. VHS has won two in a row heading into tonight’s Region 3-4A opener against Callaway at Newell Field in Jackson.

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“To make a run, the defense has to be solid. And it’s been solid. They’re relentless,” Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens said. “It’s hard to find something you can stay with and hurt them.”

Vicksburg’s defense has, essentially, allowed two touchdown drives in three games. In the 27-13 loss to South Panola, the Tigers scored on two long pass plays and a possession that started at the VHS 10-yard line.

Vicksburg followed it up with a shutout of Warren Central, then a 17-6 win over Hazlehurst last week. Hazlehurst drove for a score, but it was offset by a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown by Trey Prentiss.

As dominant as the defense has been, however, the offense has struggled. It has scored only three touchdowns in three games, including a 45-yard run on a reverse against South Panola.

Stevens said small mistakes have held the offense back.

“I didn’t think we played as smart as we were capable of at Hazlehurst. Holding behind the line behind the play, dropping touchdowns, things like that,” Stevens said. “We didn’t fumble it or throw an interception, and that’s two games without that. But we can’t drop touchdown passes. We’ve got to get those points when we get down there.”

In 2007, the Gators started the season in similar fashion. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown against Warren Central, misfired on several red zone drives against Clarksdale, and routed Hazlehurst thanks more to penalties and short fields than anything they did themselves.

And then came Callaway.

The Gator offense scored four first-half touchdowns, the defense added another, and Vicksburg led 35-0 at halftime before going on to win 44-7. It was the start of a five-game stretch in which the Gators scored 35 or more points four times.

This Callaway team, though, may be a different animal. The Chargers enter with a 2-1 record, and on a roll after beating Provine and Jim Hill. They’ve also shown some big-play capability that could test the VHS defense. Callaway has scored five touchdowns of 25 yards or longer this season. Three of those came in its lone loss, a 27-20 defeat to Murrah in the opener.

“They’re playing great. They’ve got Coach (Bennie) Tillman, with a whole lot of experience and hard work. He’s got them playing within themselves,” Stevens said. “They’ve got some good skill people. We played them all summer and they’re very impressive. We have to play for a rubber band effect. Make them work for it. The key is not to give up anything cheap.”