Vikings kick off the season Friday against Clarksdale in Red Carpet Bowl
Published 11:00 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017
Eight months ago, Warren Central looked more like a team poised to take a step back from championship contention than one ready to make another deep playoff run.
The Vikings lost three 1,000-yard rushers, four members of an offensive line head coach Josh Morgan calls “one of the best ever to come through” the storied program, nine starters on defense, the team’s leading receiver, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Now, with the start of the 2017 season just hours away, the Vikings look like they haven’t missed a beat since pushing eventual Class 6A champion Clinton to the brink in the second round of the playoffs last November.
They’ve won a spring game and dominated a jamboree, and have surprised even Morgan with how much they’ve progressed since the long run-up to the season began just after New Year’s.
“I say that in a cautious way,” Morgan said of his surprise. “When you look at how many starters we lost, we’re getting back to that point where we were last year. We don’t look like a team that lost 18 starters.”
The Vikings are, though, and get their first real test Friday night in the season-opening Red Carpet Bowl at Viking Stadium. They’ll take on Clarksdale, a team that won nine games last season and has state championship aspirations of its own after moving down to Class 4A in the latest MHSAA realignment.
Clarksdale has won three state championships in its storied history — and been to the championship game five other times, the last in 2006 — and has more talent than most 6A programs.
Senior quarterback Terrence Humphrey accounted for 27 touchdowns last season — 13 passing and 14 rushing — and has an outstanding supporting cast around him. Clarksdale is ranked No. 16 in the MaxPreps.com preseason poll. Warren Central is No. 12.
“They’re a tradition-rich program, and they’re getting back to that. It’s in the culture up there. They have kids that know how to play football,” Morgan said. “Their quarterback is right up there with the guys we’ve had to play in the past. Guys like (Northwest Rankin’s) Braden Smith and (Clinton’s) Cam Akers). Any time you have a guy with that kind of ability, they’re dangerous on every play.”
Warren Central, though, is proving that it has the same kind of capability. Despite the heavy losses on offense, the Vikings have showed few signs of losing the big-play ability that powered them to a 10-3 record last season.
Warren Central scored 34 points against a solid Brandon team in the spring game in May, when most of the starters on both sides saw a majority of the playing time. In last week’s jamboree against Ridgeland the Vikings scored 20 points in two quarters and added two more touchdowns during the junior varsity portion.
“It usually takes the offense a long time to fire on all cylinders. I like where we are on offense,” Morgan said. “(Quarterback) F.J. (Barnum) is doing a good job, the O-line is playing with great continuity. We’ve got enough skill players to be explosive again. These guys understand their roles. Now we have to play as a team and execute.”
The matchup with Clarksdale represents the first step in a challenging non-district gauntlet for Warren Central. It will go on the road to play Class 6A runner-up Pearl next week, then return home for games against archrival Vicksburg on Sept. 1 and Louisiana power Neville Sept. 8.
With all of that ahead, it’s understandable why Morgan is leaning on the “one at a time” coaching cliché. In this case, it’s also understandable since winning the Red Carpet Bowl is a singular goal for the program every year.
The Vikings have won the RCB two of the past three seasons and are 21-12 all-time in the game. The last time they played Clarksdale was in the 2008 Red Carpet Bowl, and they won 21-12.
“Right now it’s the next step. It’s a big game for us. Either way, it’s not going to be the end of the world, but we want to be as sharp as we can. Being the Red Carpet Bowl, it’s important to our boys,” Morgan said. “The Red Carpet Bowl, the kids know about it. They know about the history. It’s got a lot of tradition and pageantry to it. They know coming out it’s one of the biggest crowds of the year and they want to play well.”
FRIDAY’S AREA GAMES
r-Vicksburg vs. Oxford, 5:30 p.m. (Radio: 1490 AM)
Porter’s Chapel Academy at Columbus Christian, 7 p.m. (Radio: 104.5 FM)
Leake Academy at St. Aloysius, 7 p.m. (Radio: 101.3 FM)
Sharkey-Issaquena Academy at Calvary Christian, 7 p.m.
Kings Court at Rebul Academy, 7 p.m.
Kemper Academy at Tallulah Academy, 7 p.m.
Port Gibson at McComb, 7 p.m.
Adams Christian at Central Hinds, 7 p.m.
r-Clarksdale at Warren Central, 8 p.m. (Radio: 105.5 FM)
r-Red Carpet Bowl, at Warren Central