Gators hit road to face Richwood

Published 11:20 am Friday, August 31, 2012

Last season’s game between Vicksburg and Richwood was one of the most exciting of the year. The Gators escaped from Richwood Stadium in Monroe, La. with a dramatic 32-31 win as former quarterback Cameron Cooksey led Vicksburg to the game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute.

Only two of the players from Vicksburg’s win are back this time around when Vicksburg pays another visit to Richwood thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac. The lack of game experience was apparent in the Gators’ 49-7 Red Carpet Bowl loss to Pearl at Viking Stadium.

An open date last week gave first-year coach Tavares Johnson and his staff time to rebuild his team’s confidence heading into Richwood.

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“We’re trying to turn things around here,” Johnson said. “We were pretty demoralized after the loss, but my guys are trying real hard. We had our heart-to-heart meeting the night after the (Pearl) game. Feeling sorry for ourselves won’t happen on my watch. We came back and had a good week of practice. We had four days of contact and all of it revolved around game-type situations.”

The Gators addressed their tackling issues and reworked their kickoff coverages. Vicksburg gave up a touchdown return to Pearl to start the second half.

“I fired all of them,” Johnson said about his first kickoff team. “I think the kids have a thorough understanding of what we’re trying to do. There was nothing wrong with our schemes. At this point it’s all about repetition.”

And that’s a key point for Vicksburg. Last year in Monroe, only safety Johnathan Tenner and linebacker Shaquan James started against Richwood.

Garrett Watson punted and kicked, including the winning extra point.

Vicksburg’s hopes of a turnaround will begin with quarterback Tavares Johnson Jr. The junior quarterback, who threw for 4,700 yards and 49 touchdowns in two seasons at Cleveland East Side, struggled against Pearl. He finished 7 of 15 for 80 yards and a touchdown. The score went to sophomore De’Andre King on a 45-yard toss.

Johnson Sr. expects a crisper execution of his offense this week and more sound play from the defense. They will need it because Richwood returns an experienced team that won seven games after last year’s loss to Vicksburg in the opener.

“They have a good football team,” Johnson said. “They run the triple option. They beat Caldwell in their jamboree pretty soundly last week. I told my team, our focus is on us.”