Gators clinch a playoff berth

Published 1:11 am Saturday, October 22, 2016

Even with four turnovers, Vicksburg High battled through its mistakes to hold on to a 34-26 homecoming win against Canton on Friday night.

Joe Johnson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for two more scores as the Gators (8-2, 4-1 Region 2-5A) clinched a berth in the Class 5A playoffs.

“It was everything we thought it was going to be,” Vicksburg coach Marcus Rogers said. “They’re very athletic, and they always can match us athlete for athlete for the most part. Our goal was to get a victory. We were victorious tonight.”

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The Gator defense was able to keep Canton out of the end zone twice with goal line stands in the last five minutes of the game.

A face mask penalty gave Canton first-and-goal at the 10-yard line, but the Gators held and forced a turnover on downs with 2:56 left. Three plays into Vicksburg’s possession, it fumbled on its own 10-yard line. Again, the defense held the Tigers.

Raheam Moore intercepted a pass by Canton quarterback Jontarius Brown, and the Gators took a knee to run out the clock.

“Our defense buckled down right there at the end, and they got in rhythm. They did what they’ve been doing all year,” Rogers said.

The Tigers grabbed the momentum with just less than 2 minutes left in the half when Joe Johnson threw his second interception of the night. It resulted in a pick-six by Jermaine McGee to bring the halftime score to 21-13.

Johnson’s first interception was on the Gators’ opening drive, but did not lead to any points for the Tigers.

“Turnovers were big,” Rogers said. “We had four turnovers and that’s something we have to go back to the drawing board and clean up. We’ve got to clean up some things up front with our offensive line.”

Rogers acknowledged the team has some execution issues that need to be addressed, but he was pleased to improve the team’s win streak to four.

“True character and testament of a team is when you turn it over and your defense gets your back and rallies,” Rogers said.

Canton maintained its momentum into the third quarter. A 20-yard run by T’Jarion Peel and a fake punt set up a 20-yard touchdown run by Zahlyn McGruder. A two-point try failed, leaving the score at 21-19.

The last three games between the teams had been decided by a total of 10 points, so the Gators weren’t stunned when Canton (3-6, 2-3) hung tough after falling behind early.

“Coming into this game we already knew it was going to be a dog fight, it always is with Canton no matter the record, so we just prepared for a dog fight, and I’m glad we were on the good side of this one,” Moore said.

Rogers called the game a trap game because many of his players were already looking ahead to next week’s match against Grenada.

“They’re excited. They want to play Grenada, and it’s my job to keep them grounded,” Rogers said. “But for the most part we achieved our goal tonight.”

A Tigers fumble with 3:48 left in the third led to an immediate 30-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Moore that made it 28-19. Although Canton fought to the end, it never took the lead.

“They’ve got a great coaching staff, and also they have athletes all over the field. Anytime you have athletes on the field, you have a chance,” Rogers said.