Vikings, Gators flying high after first RCB sweep since ‘06

Published 8:00 am Monday, August 22, 2016

The 2016 Red Carpet Bowl was more than just another season opener for Warren Central and Vicksburg High.

Paired against two of Mississippi’s perennial powers, the Warren County schools had a perfect litmus test for where they stood and where they could go. They had an opportunity to make a name for themselves and gain a lot of confidence.

On every front, they achieved their goals.

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Warren Central used a strong running game and a dominating defensive effort to rout Oak Grove 29-3 in the first game of the doubleheader. Vicksburg used its defense to keep defending Class 5A Wayne County under wraps and got a breakout performance from quarterback Joe Johnson to win 35-20.

It’s the first time since 2006 that the county schools have swept the Red Carpet Bowl, and served notice that both will be forces to reckon with this season. It also showed that talk of deep playoff runs and state championships might not be just idle chatter.

“We have our goals. Our goal is to be in Starkville in December. We are going to take it one game at a time and we are going to be ready for Terry,” Vicksburg coach Marcus Rogers said, referring to the Gators’ Week 2 opponent. “We’ll be ready to roll. I’d rather be coming off a win than a loss.”

Warren Central had the more the lopsided win in the Red Carpet Bowl, but Vicksburg might have made a bigger splash.

The Gators finished 6-6 last season and opened this one against a team that had won 43 games over the past four years, won the 2015 Class 5A championship, and reached the semifinals in 2014.

The Gators took some punches from Wayne County, but stood toe-to-toe — and then stood tall — when it mattered most. On the last play of the first half, defensive back Devontay Knight made an athletic play to break up a pass at the goal line and keep the Gators in front 21-12.

Vicksburg gave up 178 rushing yards in the game, but only one touchdown in the second half to allow the offense to pull away. Johnson completed 17 of 24 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for a touchdown.

“I was happy we were able to stand the test of time down there, and bend but don’t break, and do what we do. We hang our hat on defense. We expect them to keep us in games, and as long as our guy Joe Johnson and those receivers and a good offensive line, we’re going to be fine,” Rogers said.

Warren Central, meanwhile, had a win that almost seemed too easy against an Oak Grove squad that had played for the Class 6A championship two of the past three seasons.

The Vikings rolled up 263 rushing. Quarterback Jesse Wilson and running backs Joe’Vantae Shorter and Demarcus Jones each had more than 70 yards, and Shorter and Jones each ran for a touchdown. Wilson also threw two TD passes, including a 23-yarder to Jones in the first quarter.

It was a balanced team effort on a sloppy, muddy field that left Warren Central coach Josh Morgan happy and impressed.

“Demarcus is a special back, and Joe is too. And Jesse is, too. Those guys, I had a college coach tell me one time he wanted to see running backs on wet fields, because those are the special ones. When you can cut and maneuver on this type of turf, it really separates you. They were able to do that,” Morgan said. “They had potential to make big plays and score every time they touched the football. The offensive line did a great job blocking. They don’t need much of a crease and they can do some damage.”

Warren Central also answered a big question on defense. Only four of 11 starters returned from last season, including one lineman and one linebacker. The newcomers turned in a stellar performance, however, by holding an offense that averaged 35 points per game last season to 195 yards and one field goal.

The defense also recorded a safety.

“We wanted to make them play our style of football, and we did it to a T,” Morgan said.

Up next for the Vikings is Pearl, which opened the season with a 55-0 rout of Richland. A return trip to Memorial Stadium to face Vicksburg awaits the week after that. If both teams keep their current form, the River City Classic on Sept. 2 might be one of the best in years.

Both teams, though, are taking one thing at a time as they build their resumés.

“It’s a good win, but we’re not going to let it get to our heads. Especially since we’ve got a big opponent with Pearl next week,” Warren Central linebacker Kamren Ellis said. “It’s good, and it sets a lot of momentum, but we’re just going to keep our heads straight after this.”

Vicksburg Post publisher Tim Reeves contributed to this report.



7 p.m. – Warren Central at Pearl (Radio: 105.5 FM)

7 p.m. – Terry at Vicksburg (Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM)

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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