Going against the grain pays off for WC

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Warren Central got the ball back Friday night with 10:31 left in the game, and nursing a seven-point lead against Northwest Rankin. Conventional strategy would have called for the Vikings to run the ball, hopefully pick up a few first downs, and burn some time off the clock.

Instead, a split-second adjustment changed the play call. The Vikings passed, went to a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, and marched down the field for what turned into a game-clinching touchdown drive in a 28-21 win.

It was an unconventional tactic, but appropriate for a win that required them to pull a few tricks out of the bag to get through.

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Warren Central (5-0, 1-0 Region 2-6A) turned in a complete game in its biggest test of the season so far, despite not dominating any one facet of it.

The offense rushed for 329 yards and four touchdowns — Joe Shorter and Demarcus Jones each went over the 100-yard mark — but quarterback Jesse Wilson was only 7-of-16 passing for 48 yards.
The defense had four sacks and forced three turnovers, yet allowed Northwest Rankin to score twice immediately after the offense had put momentum-seizing points on the board.

On special teams, the Vikings gave up a long kickoff return that set up a short scoring drive for Northwest. They also recovered an onsides kick at the end of the game, tackled the returnman inside the 5-yard line on a punt, and controlled field position as Walt Hopson averaged 39.5 yards on six punts.

Kicker Sean Dixon, who had struggled early in the year, went 4-for-4 on extra point attempts. Dixon has made his 18 of his last 19 PAT tries after missing one in the opener against Oak Grove and two short field goals the following week against Pearl.

“When we needed big plays, they gave them to us,” Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan said of the special teams. “I thought our coverage team was absolutely great. We made all our extra points, that’s not overlooked. We punted well. Walt had maybe his best game punting. In games like this, you better play all three phases and we did that.”

In a topsy-turvy game, then, it was fitting that the most important drive relied on flipping conventional strategy on its head.

After Northwest Rankin missed a field goal with 10:31 to go, Warren Central got the ball at its own 20. Offensive coordinator Rob Morgan called a run, but quickly signaled in an audible when he noticed a defensive mismatch.

Running back Demarcus Jones was split wide to the left in a stack formation, giving WC two receivers against one defensive back. Wilson threw a quick hitch to Jones for a nine-yard gain. After a short run, they ran the play twice more for gains of 14 and five yards. Each time, the Vikings hurried to the line and got the play off before Northwest Rankin could adjust.

The three passes accounted for more than half of Warren Central’s yardage through the air for the game, and pushed the ball to midfield.

“We had the run called, and then they never covered (the pass). We called it back-to-back-to-back, and they never covered it, so I told Jesse to keep throwing it. That was basically all that happened,” Rob Morgan said. “Finally they switched defenses, but up until that point it was two on one and we were just throwing that quick hitch out there and getting five, 10, 15, whatever. It’s just as good as a run. It got us out of a dadgum hole, that’s for sure. That was a huge drive.”

Northwest finally did make the adjustment, and the Vikings went back to the ground game. Jones had runs of 19 and 18 yards later in the drive to set up a 3-yard TD run by Shorter that made it 28-14 with 7:09 left.

The drive, in total, went 10 plays and 80 yards in 3 minutes and 22 seconds. Although it didn’t kill much of the clock, it gave WC some breathing room for the first time all game.

It also gave them some breathing room in the standings. Northwest Rankin (4-2, 0-1) is one of a half-dozen teams expected to contend for the four playoff spots in Region 2-6A, and Warren Central’s win Friday brought it one step closer to emerging from that crowded pack.

“We had to keep fighting and make them tap out,” said Shorter, who rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. “It brings a lot of momentum to our team and helps us for next week, and to push on through the season.”

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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