Playoff loss brings an end to WC’s great season

Published 9:05 am Tuesday, November 22, 2016

After spending five or six minutes in a postgame interview Friday evaluating the key plays of his team’s playoff loss to Clinton, lamenting the missed opportunity at a state championship and praising his seniors, Warren Central coach Josh Morgan neatly summed everything up with just six words.

“It’s a brutal time of year,” Morgan said.

Warren Central’s 27-21 overtime loss to Clinton on Friday brought to an end one of the most promising seasons for the program since its last state championship in 1994. The Vikings finished 10-3 and reached the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row — the first time they’d accomplished the latter feat since 2001-02.

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They’d even beaten Clinton (12-1) once, back in October. The Arrows have been the favorite to win the Class 6A championship all season. Warren Central is one of the few teams that has stood toe-to-toe with them, and even contained all-state quarterback Cam Akers.

All of those accomplishments seemed foreign, though, after the final play Friday. Akers rushed 38 times for 258 yards and three touchdowns. His second touchdown tied the game at 21 with 3:48 left, and his third was a 10-yarder on the first play of overtime that gave the Arrows the lead for good.

Warren Central misfired on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 3-yard line on its overtime possession to end the game and bring a brutal end to a high school football classic. It was especially so because of the success and potential of this year’s team, Morgan said.

“The hardest part of coaching is when you get attached to young men and their time is up. They were a good senior group that was very capable of winning a state championship. That’s high praise,” Morgan said. “The brotherhood they have with each other and the character, and the willingness to play selfless football for the greater good. I’m extremely proud of our senior class. They were a good group, and I’ll fight you over them.”

The departing senior group includes quarterback Jesse Wilson and running backs Joe Shorter and Demarcus Jones. All of them rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, and each one had at least 13 rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver Shaun Walton, who led the team with 44 catches for 652 yards and eight touchdowns, is also among that group.

It was more than just the offensive stars, however.

The senior class included linebackers Kamren Ellis and Zacheus Doss, and defensive lineman Charlie Hill — the team’s top three leading tacklers. It included offensive linemen Josh Burris, Tra Winters and Malcolm Miller, who helped power the running game, and cornerback Shakee Shaw who had two interceptions Friday against Clinton and a team-high six this season.

Morgan and his coaching staff will need to find replacements for all 28 departing seniors as they begin the long road toward the 2017 season. It’s not an absurdly high turnover rate for a Class 6A program that has nearly 100 players on the roster. Morgan noted, however, that it is always difficult to replace what makes a class like that special — on and off the field.

“That’s the ultimate plan. It’s hard to think about next year right now,” Morgan said. “Those guys have won a lot of football games and really taken our program to a whole ‘nother level, and while doing so and having such a great run they’ve been great role models and great leaders. We’re all better for having been around them.”

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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