Gators’ offense takes step back in loss

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On the bright side, the Vicksburg Gators turned in, by far, their best defensive performance of the season Friday night against Northwest Rankin.

On the other side, the Gators continued to stumble in key situations, lost their starting quarterback for a while and dug themselves an even deeper hole in the Region 2-6A standings. It was definitely a night where the negatives outweighed the positives.

Vicksburg lost 21-6 to fall to 0-2 in the region and 1-5 overall. It committed five fumbles and had its lowest point total in four games. Only one of the fumbles was lost, on a muffed punt that led to a Northwest Rankin touchdown, but one bad snap cost the Gators a potential tying PAT in the first half and another slowed a drive near midfield in the second.

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Vicksburg also had just 13 yards of total offense in the second half.

“Bad snaps, muffed punts, that’s stuff good teams don’t do. It cost us a ballgame. It is what it is,” Vicksburg coach Tavares Johnson, Sr. said.

Vicksburg’s offense sputtered after starting quarterback Tavares Johnson, Jr. left the game with a leg injury. He was not touched before falling to the turf on a quarterback draw late in the first quarter. Johnson Jr. said Monday that he has a broken bone in his ankle. He is expecting to be out for four to six weeks.

Backup quarterback Marquez Pickett completed 7 of 12 passes for 67 yards in the first half and led the Gators to a touchdown on his first series, then struggled after that. He was 2-for-9 for minus-1 yard over the last 2½ quarters.

Johnson Sr. expressed faith in Pickett.

“We put him in the game and right away, he completed a long pass,” Johnson Sr. said, referring to a 17-yard completion to Johnathan Tenner on Pickett’s fourth pass attempt. The play gained a first down on third-and-10 and kept alive Vicksburg’s only scoring drive. “He’s more than capable of leading this team, and he just may have to. He did some things well.”

The Gators’ defense did plenty of things well.

Although they came out on the wrong end of the score, the 21 points allowed was their lowest total in 13 games. They held Northwest Rankin (2-4, 1-1) to less than 300 yards of total offense — Curtis Hicks rushed for 107 on 18 carries — and turned the game into a field position battle for most of the night.

Northwest went three-and-out four times in 12 possessions and was stopped on downs once.

Two of the Cougars’ touchdowns were set up by excellent starting field position. A muffed punt in the third quarter gave them the ball at the VHS 31-yard line and led to a 16-yard touchdown run by Hayden Tharpe. In the fourth quarter, Vicksburg punted out of its end zone and Northwest ended up with the ball at the 24-yard line. The Cougars converted on a fourth-and-1, then Anthony Darby scored on a 1-yard run to take a 21-6 lead with 3:18 left.

Johnson Sr. credited some of the improvement to the switch to a five-man defensive front.

“That’s the best game we’ve played to this point,” Johnson Sr. said. “Considering the changes we made schematically, the kids responded to it well.”

Sports writer Jeff Byrd contributed to this report.