Sputtering Cougars up next for Gators

Published 11:24 am Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vicksburg’s nickname is the Gators. Northwest Rankin’s is the Cougars.

This week, they’re both dogs fighting over a bone.

The Region 2-6A rivals face off Friday night in Flowood, with the winner reviving its chances of a postseason run and the loser facing a difficult climb back from an 0-2 start.

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Although it’s a pivotal point early in the seven-game region schedule, Vicksburg coach Tavares Johnson Sr. was taking a longer-range approach.

“It’s a long season and a long district season,” Johnson said. “If we go out and take care of business like I think we can, we’ll be all right.”

Johnson was treading a thin line of optimism and frustration this week. The Gators (1-4, 0-1 Region 2-6A) had three turnovers, dropped 14 passes and committed a slew of other mistakes on offense and defense in a 42-28 loss to Jim Hill in their region opener last week.

As maddening as the miscues were, Johnson said he can see the makings of a good season underneath them. After scoring a total of seven points in their first two games, the Gators have scored at least 28 in each of the last three.

Clean up the mistakes, Johnson said, and it’s not too late to turn things around.

“The other team is not beating us. We’re beating ourselves. It’s evident. I see it. Northwest Rankin sees it. Everybody sees it,” Johnson said.

Like Vicksburg, Northwest Rankin is coming off a rough early-season stretch. The Cougars, who were 11-2 and reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season, lost their starting quarterback from that team to an injury, top rusher to discipline issues, and best defensive player to graduation.

They’ve stumbled out of the gate this year, going 1-4 and dropping last week’s region opener to Warren Central.

Northwest Rankin has scored just 27 points in its last three games and gave up almost 200 rushing yards against Warren Central.

Despite those struggles, Johnson said the Cougars remain a dangerous team. Running back Curtis Hicks has rushed for nearly 400 yards this season to lead the team’s power rushing attack.

For a Vicksburg defense that has not given up less than 27 points in any game this season, stopping the Cougars — or anyone — won’t be easy.

“We made some changes on the defensive side, schematically and with our personnel, that will give us a chance to stop them. We added another defensive lineman and changed some other things,” Johnson said.