Vikings get playoff rematch with Northwest Rankin

Published 12:53 am Monday, January 23, 2017

The soccer programs at Warren Central and Northwest Rankin are no strangers to each other — and for Warren Central, that’s not the best thing in the world.

The Vikings and Cougars have played each other six times since 2011. Warren Central has won twice and played Northwest Rankin, a perennial power, tough on a couple of other occasions. That means there’s a level of respect between the programs and no overlooking, no taking lightly, no sneaking up on them when they meet Tuesday in the first round of the Class 6A boys’ playoffs.

It’s a rematch of a regular-season game in early December that Northwest Rankin won 1-0, which is another reason Head doesn’t expect to fly under the radar.

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“That’s helpful and it’s hurtful, because he doesn’t underestimate us,” Warren Central coach Greg Head said of his counterpart at Northwest Rankin, Chris Gardner. “And since we were close the first game, he’s going to really pay attention and change some things this time.”

Northwest Rankin (19-1) is ranked No. 1 in Mississippi by MaxPreps and enters the playoffs as the Division 3-6A champion. The program has won three state championships, but hasn’t been back to the finals since winning its last title in 2008.

The Cougars, though, are far from a faded power. They have an 80-10-2 record over the past four seasons, and this might be one of their best teams yet. Senior forward Chandler Shirley leads the team with 12 goals, and three other players have at least nine goals. In 20 games, they’ve only allowed 10 goals.

“Every one of their players are good and fast. That’s what overwhelmed us the first time,” Head said. “We held our own, but they got a few more shots than we took. We’re a little more ready for them now.”

In actuality, Northwest Rankin outshot Warren Central 31-6 in their first meeting. The only goal, however, was by Shirley in the 35th minute.

And that’s what Warren Central has going for it as it tries to take down a juggernaut. The Vikings (13-3) have only allowed eight goals in 16 games, and have only given up more than one goal once. Two of their three losses were by 1-0 scores.

If they can keep Tuesday’s game close, one counterattack or scoring chance might be enough to spring an upset that would be noteworthy but not necessarily monumental. Head is just hoping his squad has the depth to keep up with waves of Northwest Rankin substitutions.

“They’re so fast and they’ve got so many of them, that they don’t get tired,” Head said.

On the minus side for Warren Central, the Cougars also tend to treat Warren Central as a legitimate rival and should be amped up for the game. After Warren Central’s last win in the series, a surprisingly easy 4-1 victory in December 2014, the Cougars stewed on it for a year and had it circled as an early-season must-win when the teams played 362 days later.

Northwest Rankin won that rematch 6-0. The Vikings are hoping this one doesn’t follow that trend.
“Our kids have the mentality that they can beat them,” Head said. “They are one of the better teams we’ve played so far. But we’re ready for the challenge.”

Before the Vikings and the Cougars take the field for their game, Warren Central and Northwest Rankin will also meet in the first round of the Class 6A girls’ soccer playoffs.

The girls’ game begins at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:30.

Northwest Rankin (17-2) won 5-0 when the teams played in Flowood in December, and has shut out the Lady Vikes (8-8-1) the last six times the teams have met.

In the Class 5A playoffs, Vicksburg will go on the road to play Germantown in a first-round boys’ game Tuesday at 7 p.m.

It’s the first time the two schools have played each other since November 2014.

Vicksburg (4-9) is riding a three-game losing streak, while Division 3-5A champion Germantown (6-8-1) has won four of its last five and is seeking its fourth straight trip to the Class 5A championship game. It lost in the previous three appearances.

Meanwhile, in the Class 5A girls’ playoffs, Vicksburg (6-4) earned the right to host a first-round game by winning the Division 4-5A championship for the third time in four years.

The Missy Gators will face Grenada (9-5-1) Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

Vicksburg has not won a playoff game since reaching the Class 4A semifinals in 2009. The last of its five state championships came in 2002. Mikayla Banks and her teammates will try to end at least the first streak Tuesday. Banks, a senior, leads the team with 37 goals. She scored both of her team’s goals in a 2-0 win over Ridgeland last Thursday that clinched the division championship.

Tuesday – Boys
7 p.m. – Vicksburg at Germantown
7:30 p.m. – Warren Central at Northwest Rankin
Tuesday – Girls
5:30 p.m. – Grenada at Vicksburg
6 p.m. – Warren Central at Northwest Rankin

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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