Gators face unknown in Lake Cormorant

Published 8:57 am Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Vicksburg Gators could have drawn Oxford in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, and had a chance at revenge. They could have been lined up against West Point and had a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in Class 5A.

Instead they wound up with Lake Cormorant, and that’s just fine by them.

Vicksburg (9-3) will head north to Desoto County on Friday night to take on Lake Cormorant (8-4) in a matchup of teams with the same nickname and plenty of other things in common.

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Both teams feature high-powered offenses and are in search of a breakthrough win. Vicksburg hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008, and Lake Cormorant has never won one.

Unlike Oxford, which put Vicksburg out of the playoffs last season and has appeared in three consecutive state championship games, or a West Point program that has won seven state titles, VHS coach Marcus Rogers said that leaves both teams on fairly even footing.

“Anything, as far as playoffs, it’s not going to be easy. But I think it gets a little weight off your mind playing a team like that, that hasn’t stamped themselves into the state yet,” Rogers said. “As opposed to us, having some kind of history and tradition at Vicksburg High School, where we’re trying to get back to the winning ways and go deep in the playoffs and even compete for state championships. With that being said, we need a signature victory.”

Lake Cormorant opened in 2009. Its eight wins this season are the most in its brief history, and this will be just the program’s third playoff appearance. It lost to Germantown in the first round in 2015, and had a winless season in 2014.

The Gators from North Mississippi are led by sophomore quarterback Ben Rohrbacher (2,219 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions), running back Brian F. Jackson (1,165 yards and 10 TDs), and wide receiver Brandon Smith (69 receptions, 1,402 yards, 18 TDs). Lake Cormorant is averaging 32.4 points per game.

“They’ve got some athletes. There’s a Dandy Dozen receiver, and a second guy that’s a great role player, and they also have a running back that has a thousand yards and another with 500 or 600. So they’ve got some players on the field, and they look good on film,” Rogers said.

That could all be a problem for a Vicksburg defense that has been strong all season but is entering the playoffs with some walking wounded. Linebacker Nick Anderson (back) only played a handful of snaps last week against Holmes County Central and will be a game time decision this week. Another linebacker, Malik Shelley, is nursing an ankle injury.

Defensive end Jomon O’Neal has missed the past three games with an ankle injury but could return this week. Rogers said getting O’Neal back on the field would be a big boost against a pass-oriented team.

“Hopefully they clear Jomon O’Neal, because we’ve had one sack in three weeks,” Rogers said. “If we can get Jomon O’Neal back, that’ll help us because this is a passing team. They want to drop back and throw it, and we need the best defensive player in the state to play.”

If the defense does struggle, Rogers pointed out that his Gators are certainly capable of winning a shootout. Vicksburg is averaging 34.8 points per game, with quarterback Joe Johnson (2,863 passing yards, 31 TDs, 10 interceptions) and wide receiver Raheam Moore (71 receptions, 1,055 yards, 20 touchdowns) providing a mirror image of Lake Cormorant’s offensive weapons. A balanced VHS running game has three players with 400 yards or more on the ground.

Vicksburg has scored 90 points in its last two games, and at least 34 points in seven of its last eight games.

“Looking at the last seven weeks, we’re 6-1. Offensively, I think we’re in a great rhythm. Defensively, I just told Coach to give us a couple of stops this week,” Rogers said. “It really wouldn’t matter who we played. As long as we execute and do what we can do, we should be OK.”


Class 5A playoffs, first round

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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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