It’s crunch time for Warren Central
Published 8:58 am Thursday, November 3, 2016
In the span of a couple of days, Warren Central went from having a shot at the Region 2-6A championship, to being unsure of its playoff fate, to being in the playoffs, to needing a win over Callaway this week to get into the postseason, and back to being in.
Through all of the uncertainty and confusion over the various tiebreakers and playoff scenarios, one thing stayed constant — the Vikings need to win this week. If not to assure themselves of a spot in the Class 6A playoffs, then to at least regain some momentum and peace of mind heading into them.
“I dang sure don’t want to leave it up to interpretations or any kind of rules,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said with a laugh. “Even when we were sorting it out, we were fortunate because it was easy for us to just win and we were in. Our focus is on finishing the regular season on a positive note and winning against a talented Callaway team.”
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For the record, Warren Central has clinched a playoff berth.
The Vikings will finish third in Region 2-6A with either a win over Callaway, or if Starkville beats Clinton. They’ll finish fourth if they lose to Callaway and Clinton beats Starkville.
The latter scenario would create a three-way tie between WC, Starkville and Northwest Rankin. The teams are 1-1 against each other, and the second tiebreaker is how they fared against the highest-seeded team in the region.
In the scenario needed to create the three-way tie, Clinton would win the region championship and Warren Central’s victory over the Arrows on Oct. 21 would give it the nod. Northwest Rankin would then earn the No. 4 seed based on its head-to-head win over Starkville. Contrary to previous reports, a point differential tiebreaker — No. 3 in the tiebreaker order — would not come into play.
Having at least a playoff berth locked up was a relief for Morgan, but he said it’s still important to finish strong. The Vikings had a chance to win the region title by winning their last two games, but lost to Starkville last week and now can do no better than third.
Regaining some momentum and swagger heading into the playoffs — not to mention avoiding a first-round trip to No. 1 Tupelo — are now the main goals this week. The third-place team in Region 2-6A will play South Panola (6-5) in the first round of the playoffs, while the fourth-place team goes to Tupelo.
“We’re trying to finish, and that’s the thing,” Morgan said. “We have to regroup coming off a tough loss on the road. We need to finish the regular season, and we need to finish it the right way. You don’t want to stumble into the playoffs.”
Callaway (7-4, 2-4 Region 2-6A) was eliminated from playoff contention a couple of weeks ago. Far from being a weak sister in the region, however, that fact only points to the league’s strength.
Callaway started 5-0 before suffering three consecutive — and competitive — losses to Starkville, Clinton and Northwest Rankin. In the last three weeks the Chargers have beaten Greenville and Murrah while losing to Madison Central in a game they led at halftime.
The Chargers have two players on the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game roster — defensive back Emanuel Dabney and defensive lineman Aaron Odom — and several other talented players.
Junior quarterback Tyrese Winford has thrown for 1,856 yards and 10 TDs this season, and running back Lakenith Thompson has rushed for 1,652 yards and 17 TDs.
Three of the last five meetings between Callaway and Warren Central have been decided by six points or less.
All of that, Morgan said, means the Chargers are not a team to be taken lightly.
“They’re very talented. Very talented,” Morgan said, putting extra emphasis on the word “very.”
“The games they lost, they’ve been right there. They were 9-6 with Starkville at halftime and played Madison to the wire. It’s going to be their last game and they’re going to come out letting it fly,” Morgan said. “The last five years with them it’s 3-2 with two overtime games in there. It’s just another day at the office around here.”
Facing a strong running game might be a bit of a concern for Warren Central (8-2, 4-2) after the last two weeks. Clinton quarterback Cam Akers had 136 rushing yards against the Vikings, and Starkville’s Willie Gay had 319 yards and five touchdowns. Warren Central gave up 32 and 35 points, respectively, in those two games.
Warren Central’s offense has kept up, scoring 50 points against Clinton and 28 against Starkville even without a couple of key pieces.
Running back Joe Shorter and offensive lineman Trajan Winters both left the Clinton game and missed the Starkville game with injuries. Winters will be back this week, while Shorter is day-to-day.
In Shorter’s absence, Demarcus Jones has stepped up from a complementary role to lead back.
For most of the year, Shorter was the workhorse while Jones was the big-play threat. Jones had two 100-yard efforts, but only 39 carries in the first seven games. In the last two weeks he’s had 27 carries for 198 yards and five touchdowns.
Jones also plays defensive back and had an interception in the Clinton game.
“He’s stepped up,” Morgan said. “We’re a more explosive team when he’s rolling, no doubt. He’s so important to what we do on both sides of the football. He’s been tough and dependable. We’re pleased with how he’s stepped up and become a leader and a primary weapon for us.”