Gators look to ground and pound

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

At heart, Marcus Rogers likes nothing more than to see a spiraling football cutting through the night sky before landing in the hands of one of his receivers sprinting untouched toward the end zone.

In his brain, he knows that’s not how his Vicksburg Gators will win football games this season, so the coach has curbed his enthusiasm for the passing game a bit to take a more grounded approach based on a strong running game and defense.

“I’m at a point in my life now where I need W’s. So whatever it takes to win ballgames,” Rogers said with a laugh. “We want to run the ball right at you. I would love to throw it, the passer in me, the offensive mind I am. We want to do whatever it takes to have one more point than the opposing team at the end of the night.”

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Rogers’ ground-and-pound style will make its formal debut Friday night against Harrison Central. Vicksburg will face the Class 6A school in the Red Carpet Bowl at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium at 6 p.m.

The Gators had what Rogers called a successful “beta test” in last week’s jamboree game against Jefferson County. The offense had more than a dozen positive-yardage plays in two quarters, and the defense held Jefferson County to a single touchdown in a 21-8 victory.

This week, however, will be a different type of challenge. Harrison Central finished 6-6 last season and has 30 seniors on this year’s roster. Its offensive line averages nearly 290 pounds and senior running back Walter Carter is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds.

Vicksburg has an experienced line, but will need to rely on quickness and technique to get the job done against the Red Rebels’ front five.

“It’s a matchup problem if we try to outphysical them,” Rogers said. “We’re going to outquick them and play gaps, and see if they can move their feet. If they can move their feet and pick us up in the gaps, it’s going to be a long night. But if we outquick them like I know we can do, and outtechnique them, we should play a pretty good ballgame.”

The Gators will also need to run the ball to win — something they didn’t do well at all last season.

They averaged a paltry 87.3 rushing yards per game. The team leader, E.J. Stevenson, had 249 yards. The second-leading rusher was a wide receiver, Tedarius Brown.

To not only shore up that glaring weakness, but to help protect sophomore quarterback Joe Johnson, Rogers made the running game a point of emphasis this offseason. He moved receiver Tim Jackson into the backfield and worked hard to get more out of the four returning starters on the line.

The jamboree game might have only been two quarters of the preseason, but Rogers said the success the Gators had was very encouraging.

“I can sleep at night. Last year we had some first-and-fives we couldn’t convert. That was our biggest focus in the offseason, was offensive line and running back. The season will go as long as our running backs take us,” Rogers said. “Tim ran the ball real well. When we inserted Antonio Brown, we know what he can do. He ran the ball well, as well as Marlon Hodge. We have a three-headed monster. Tim will get the majority of the snaps. The run game takes a lot off a sophomore quarterback, and the passing lanes open up.”

Rogers is hoping the running game will also let him play more with the passing game that he loves so dearly. If the Gators can run the ball, it’ll force defenses to creep up to stop it. That, in turn, will leave the team’s speedy receivers in single coverage and make it easier for Johnson to find them for big plays down the field.

“I want Joe to be confident. If we can run it, they’ll load the box and our passing numbers are better,” Rogers said. “It should be a good season if we just execute. Eliminate turnovers and force turnovers. That’s our goal this year, and not shoot ourselves in the foot.”

On the Radio

Friday, 6 p.m., 1490 AM

Vicksburg vs. Harrison Central

Red Carpet Bowl, at Warren Central

Red Carpet Bowl tickets on sale

Advance tickets for Friday’s Red Carpet Bowl games are still available at Just Duett Sports, Michel’s Music Downtown, the Vicksburg Warren School District Athletic Department office and the offices of both Vicksburg and Warren Central High Schools and Junior High Schools.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the gate, and are good for both games. The first game will feature Vicksburg High and Harrison Central at 6 p.m., followed by Warren Central vs. Wayne County at 8:30. Both games will be played at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium.

The Red Carpet Bowl committee has also requested that no soliciting — including political campaigns and ads — be done at the game.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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