Gators hoping trip to Oxford is only the first

Published 9:04 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

All season long, the goal for Vicksburg High — and every team in Mississippi — has been to play in Oxford.

Now, the Gators want to go twice.

Vicksburg (6-5) will head north to play Oxford High School (9-2) in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday night. The MHSAA football state championship games will be played a few miles away at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, so the Gators are hoping to become very familiar with the long stretch of Interstate 55 over the next three weeks.

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“We’re very excited just to go. We haven’t been (to the playoffs) since 10th grade. We didn’t plan to go play Oxford first, but it happens,” Vicksburg senior linebacker Antonio Brown said. “We still have a chance to win the championship. I just want to go out with a win.”

Vicksburg has played well of late, winning two of its last three games to earn the fourth and final playoff berth from Region 2-5A, but facing Oxford will be a challenge unlike any it has seen all season.

The Chargers haven’t lost since Sept. 4 against Madison Central, have been ranked first or second in the Associated Press Class 5A poll all season, and lost in the Class 5A championship game in both 2013 and 2014.

Senior quarterback Jack Abraham, a Vicksburg native, has thrown for more than 10,000 yards and 116 touchdowns in three years as a starter. He’s only thrown 11 interceptions in 692 attempts over the past two seasons.

Oxford has playmakers at other positions as well. Senior receiver D.K. Metcalf (60 receptions, 1,019 yards and 14 touchdowns) has committed to Ole Miss.

Stopping the Chargers has not been easy for anyone. They’ve averaged 42 points per game this season. Vicksburg coach Marcus Rogers, though, believes he has a defense suited for the task.

“We bring an unorthodox defense to everybody we play. A lot of teams play off of them and play base defenses. But in our district, we’re the only team doing what we do as far as bringing pressure. It’s like the old school Pittsburgh Steelers, just bringing them from everywhere,” Rogers said. “One thing I saw on film is that nobody has done that. They try to drop eight and get it into coverage. If you give (Abraham) all day, he’ll pick you apart. We’re going to see what he can do in a hurry, because he’s not going to be able to stand back there and play seven-on-seven.”

Rogers’ other reason for optimism comes on the other side of the ball. His sophomore quarterback, Joe Johnson, has rebounded with two good games after a midseason slump. He’s completed 33 of 47 passes — a 70.2 percent rate — for 404 yards and four touchdowns, and threw three TD passes in last week’s 37-20 win over Holmes County Central.

“Right in front of our eyes, he’s growing up. He’s maturing,” Rogers said. “The ball is jumping out of his hand like it was at the beginning of the season. He’s getting more confident. We have the system down. We’re getting our checks in, and running the ball just enough to keep you honest.”

Oxford, meanwhile, has allowed 56 points in its last two games.

If his defense can keep Oxford’s high-powered offense in check, Rogers said, he believes the offense can do enough to give the Gators a fighting chance.

“I think, offensively, we’ll have our chances to score some points. If we can get a couple of stops, we’ll be in a good situation,” Rogers said.

Vicksburg at Oxford

Class 6A playoffs, first round

Friday, 7 p.m.

Radio: 1490 AM

Online: For live scoring updates on Friday night, visit or

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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