Vikings ready for big game at NWR

Published 9:06 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

Warren Central has spent the last two weeks preparing for its Region 2-6A opener as if it were a playoff game.

It’s a wise approach considering it essentially is.

Warren Central (4-1) and Northwest Rankin (4-1) are part of a group of six playoff contenders in the region that have either been ranked in the Associated Press Class 6A poll or made it through the first month of the season with only one loss.

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Their games against each other will count double — one in the win column and another toward the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker — as the two-month region schedule unfolds. That makes this Friday night in Flowood far from just another game, and the Vikings certainly aren’t treating it like one.

“It’s got big implications. Any time you’re playing against a team that’s another playoff contender, whoever wins is 1-0 in the district and is going to have a two-game lead,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “We’ve talked about it and understand it, and (WC’s players) have gotten a lot smarter about situations. They understand what a pivotal game this is.”

Part of that understanding is cultural. For more than a decade, ever since the two teams have been paired together in Region 2-6A and opened the league schedule against each other, the Warren Central-Northwest Rankin winner has gone on to make the playoffs. Most of those times, the loser was home for the postseason.

Warren Central has owned the series recently. It has won the last three meetings, with only last year’s 21-13 victory in Viking Stadium coming by eight points or less. Not coincidentally, Northwest Rankin has struggled during that stretch. It hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2011.

The Cougars, though, are off to an impressive 4-1 start this year under new coach Toby Collums. They beat Germantown and Pearl among their four wins before losing to Class 6A No. 3 Brandon 28-21 last week. Quarterback Braden Smith has thrown for 810 yards and four touchdowns already, and added a team-high 362 yards and four TDs on the ground.

Morgan, for one, is a believer that the Cougars are back.

“They have maybe the best quarterback in the district,” Morgan said. “Braden Smith is a difference-maker. He’s playing phenomenal, and has some really good skill players around him.”

Warren Central is averaging 300 total yards and 34.5 points per game. Morgan said the Vikings used last week’s open date not just to fine-tune things but to get ready for this key game.

“Our coaches have done an extremely good job this past week,” Morgan said. “I don’t know how many teams can go through a bye week and get as much done and improve as much as we did. The guys are locked in.”

The combination of high-octane offenses, excellent players and major playoff implications should make Friday’s matchup one of the must-see games in Mississippi this week.

“These games are special to me. It’ll be a wonderful atmosphere. It’s a huge ballgame. It’s fun to see the players get ready for a game like this. This is what we all do it for,” Morgan said. “This is what big games feel like, and this is how you win big games. If we’re successful, this’ll be a huge springboard for us.”

Warren Central at Northwest Rankin

Friday, 7 p.m.

Radio: 105.5 FM

Online: For live scoring updates on Friday night, visit

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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