Warren Central faces Starkville for Region 2-6A title

Published 9:05 am Thursday, October 29, 2015

It’s been 11 years since a postseason game was played at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium. A little more than a decade since an undisputed region championship trophy was welcomed among the many that populate the school’s trophy case.

Both droughts can end with one more win Friday night.

Warren Central (8-1, 5-0 Region 2-6A) welcomes Starkville (8-1, 5-0) to town with the Region 2-6A championship hanging in the balance. WC can clinch it with a win that would officially end a decade-long walk in Mississippi’s football wilderness and firmly establish itself as a contender for the Class 6A state championship.

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“We’ve thought about it a lot. If we win this week, we have a home playoff game the first round and that’s a big confidence builder for us. We won’t have to travel and people come down to our environment. It’s better for us,” Warren Central running back D.J. Lane said. “It would mean a lot to us, because it’s been something we’ve been chasing for a long time. It’s something that we really want, and we’ve got to have it.”

Warren Central has gotten to this point before. Sealing the deal has been the hard part.

In 2013, the Vikings beat Starkville 12-9 to earn a share of the Region 2-6A title. The margin of victory, however, was not enough to come out ahead in a three-way tie with Starkville and Madison Central. Warren Central got a championship trophy, but received the No. 3 seed in the region and had to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

Last season, WC went on the road and took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against the then-undefeated Yellow Jackets. It slipped away, Starkville won 27-17, and Warren Central again finished third in the region.

Starkville is 18-1 against Region 2-6A opponents since joining the league in 2013, and has won the championship each of the last two years. It has only trailed in the fourth quarter in three of those 19 games — with two of them being against Warren Central.

Warren Central coach Josh Morgan couldn’t quite put a finger on the reason his team has thrived against Starkville while so many others have wilted, other than it has risen to the challenge of competing with a great program.

“Most of that has to go to our players. Our type of kids are the type that don’t back down. The coaches have done a great job, too, of getting them ready,” Morgan said. “Our kids at this point are extremely confident. There’s a lot of respect for (Starkville), though. We are not cocky, I can tell you that. If we’re good at what we do, we can be successful.”

One of the things the Vikings are good at is defense, and they’ll definitely need to be on their game Friday night.

Starkville has a modest yet effective running game, but makes its money through the air. Senior A.J. Brown is one of the top wide receiver recruits in the country. He has caught 56 passes for 863 yards this season, with seven touchdowns. He was recently selected to play in the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game and has offers from Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and several other top-level college programs.

Containing Brown, Morgan said, will be the priority of the Vikings’ defensive game plan.

“They’re not hiding who they’re going to on offense. They use him, and they use him often,” Morgan said. “As much as they throw it to him, he’s going to make plays. We have to create turnovers. If they’re going to throw to him 20 times, we have to get a couple of picks. We can’t let them throw it and there not be consequences.”

While Brown gets the headlines, Morgan added that Starkville’s real strength is an excellent defense. It hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in a game since losing 26-20 in double overtime to Class 4A power Noxubee County in the season opener. The Yellow Jackets have three shutouts and held three other opponents to a single touchdown.

“Watching them, the first thing that pops off is their defense. Whatever points they’re giving up, it ain’t many. Their front seven is just stout,” Morgan said. “Their defense is unbelievable. They’re extremely good, and I think that’s why they’re winning football games.”

Warren Central, meanwhile, has done whatever it takes to win. It has scored 40 or more points five times in its nine games, held three opponents to six points or less, scored eight defensive or special teams touchdowns, and mixed a strong defense with an effective offense.

The Vikings have rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as a team, with no one back having more than 600. D.J. Knight is the top rusher with 594 yards, while D.J. Lane has gone over 100 yards each of the last two weeks.

That adaptability, as well as a loud partisan crowd, will be key to pulling out another win in the biggest game of the year, Morgan said.

“We had a wonderful crowd (last) Friday. They were louder than Clinton’s side. A lot of people are getting behind this team. We need a huge crowd this Friday night. We need them to do everything they can to help us win, because it is a big one,” Morgan said. “These games are the ones they’ve wanted to see, and we need their help.”

Starkville at Warren Central

Friday, 7 p.m.

Radio: 105.5 FM

Online: For live scoring updates on Friday night, visit Facebook.com/thevicksburgpost or Twitter.com/vicksburgpost

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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