Ridgeland game another chance for Gators to gain ground

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On every journey, there comes a point where it’s time to quit gawking at the attractions and just eat up some miles on the road.

That’s the point the Vicksburg Gators are at as they venture to Ridgeland on Friday night. Bigger games loom down the road — like the one against Grenada in two weeks — but this is when the Gators need to pile up wins and build their resumé. It’s the second in a four-week stretch of games against sub-.500 teams, and another win is another step closer to the playoffs.

“You win the games you’re supposed to win and try to sneak a couple you’re not. That’s an old coach’s cliché,” Vicksburg coach Marcus Rogers said. “Ridgeland is another team where we want to go out and impose our will early. I like our chances. We’re healthy, and at the right time for us to start peaking and keep trending up.”

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Although Ridgeland (1-7, 1-2 Region 2-5A) seems far from the best team Vicksburg (6-2, 2-1) will play this year, Rogers stressed that this is an important game for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is the teams’ history with each other. Ridgeland has won four of five meetings all time, with Vicksburg’s only win coming in 2008. Ridgeland’s last three wins in the series have all been by at least 10 points.

Because of that, Rogers said he’s not taking this game lightly.

“Ridgeland, they’ve got a mental edge on us because we haven’t beaten them since we got in 5A, period,” Rogers said. “So we’re selling out this week. We’re putting everything on Ridgeland. We’re not looking forward. We don’t care about homecoming next week. All the coaches are echoing ‘Ridgeland, Ridgeland, Ridgeland,’ and how good they are, because we haven’t beat them so we have no reason to believe it’s one of those games where you can just go through the motions and win.”

One reason for Ridgeland’s struggles this season has been its schedule. Among its losses are Clinton (7-0), Northwest Rankin (6-2) and Grenada (5-2). The Titans were blown out by all of them, but Rogers believes just playing those quality opponents means they’re a much better team than the record indicates.

“They’ve lost to some good teams. Losing those type games is hard. But one thing is, that means they’re battle tested. And with them having a mental edge, they believe they can come in and win this game. And they’re at home,” Rogers said. “So our whole mentality has been that we’re down 14 and we’re not going to get any calls. We have to go in with that chip on our shoulder and play Gator football and we’ll be fine.”

For the Gators, this is a chance to achieve a major milestone. One more victory will guarantee the program its first winning season since 2008. That’s a big step forward for the program, and doing it just past the halfway point of the season is even bigger.

Rogers said the Gators have far bigger goals in mind, like region and state championships. The way they’ve played so far, those don’t seem unrealistic. The thought of getting this one, though, brought a smile to his face.

“That’s a big milestone. My purpose in coming here was to change the culture. The program had just been sitting at .500 and below. Trying to get kids in college, get them exposure, and getting them to be productive citizens and winning at the same time,” Rogers said. “So there’s got to be an expectation from here on out, and that’s my deal. The expectation has got to be winning around here, because we have the type of program that can win.”

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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