Gators finding success on the ground|PREP FOOTBALL

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vicksburg High hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2002. It loves to use three-, four- and five-receiver sets. And other than the occasional short-yardage or goal line situations, every snap is taken in the shotgun formation.

In other words, all signs point to a pass-happy team that is certain to throw the ball 20 or 30 times a game. And that’s exactly what the Gators want opponents to think.

The truth is, Vicksburg’s offense has become a Trojan Horse. For all of the passing looks it gives a defense, it has actually become a run-first scheme. In Friday’s 31-6 win over Callaway, Vicksburg (3-1) threw just four passes out of 48 offensive snaps. It ran for 220 yards and dominated the clock.

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“Not all spread teams are designed to be a passing attack. We take what teams give us and we’ve found teams can’t deal with us,” VHS offensive coordinator Jackie Williamson said.

Part of the reason for the shift has been a change in personnel. For the last three seasons Vicksburg’s starting quarterback was Stanton Price, a strong-armed lefty who finished his career with more than 4,000 passing yards. Price was a prototypical pocket passer, though, and not much of a threat to run.

Now, with Price — as well as Delmon Robinson and John Qualls, the team’s leading receivers in 2007 — gone, the more mobile Les Lemons is running the show. Lemons also has a strong arm, but can scramble, break out of the pocket when the play breaks down, or carry the ball on designed runs. In four games, he’s already rushed for 273 yards and thrown for 222.

Jeremy Hamlin, who had 96 yards and two touchdowns against Callaway, has also run for 176 yards on the season. As a team, Vicksburg has more than 600 rushing yards and 222 passing.

This week’s games

PCA hosts University Christian, Friday, 7 p.m.

St. Aloysius hosts Pelahatchie, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Vicksburg hosts Pearl, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Warren Central hosts NW Rankin, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

“That’s what Les gives you. He can run and throw. Last year, people would make us throw. Now it opens up more avenues and makes us more deadly,” VHS head coach Alonzo Stevens said. “We work all week on the passing game and running game. If you’re taking something away, we know we can do this. With a good coaching staff like we’ve got, we just want to take what they were giving us.”

That was certainly the case against Callaway. The Chargers set up their defense to take away the pass, and the VHS coaching staff adjusted on the fly. After Lemons completed a swing pass to Trey Prentiss for a 53-yard gain on their first offensive play, the Gators only tried three more passes the rest of the first half.

The first was an interception in the end zone, the second was a screen that lost a yard, and the third was negated by a penalty. The next pass VHS tried came on its last play of the game, and went for a 10-yard touchdown from Lemons to Rodney Beacham.

Vicksburg had two scoring drives consisting of nothing but runs sandwiched around halftime. They resulted in a field goal and a touchdown, ate nearly 12 minutes off the clock, and increased VHS’ lead from 14-6 to 24-6 with five minutes left in the third quarter. After the defense held Callaway in check, the Gators again used the running game to go on a clock-killing drive in the last half of the fourth quarter.

The eight-play drive that ended with Lemons’ TD pass to Beacham lasted 4 minutes, 27 seconds, featured running plays on its first seven snaps, and had four of those runs go for 6 yards or more.

“It’s really not a power running team. We’ve got good receivers and a good quarterback,” Hamlin said. “As long as the line keeps stepping up we’ll have good games like this every week.”