Punters play key role for Warren County teams

Published 10:07 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Porter’s Chapel Academy was facing a 9-0 deficit with a backup quarterback in the game and no real threat of a downfield passing attack. A fourth-and-7 situation popped up from Claiborne Christian’s 38-yard line, and head coach Blake Purvis lingered for a long moment before deciding to punt the football.

Across town, at Warren Central, the home team’s offense had stalled near midfield on an early drive against Greenville. On came the punting team.

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In both cases, it was an isolated act of failure and surrender. No football team likes to punt. It was also a move both Purvis and his Warren Central counterpart Josh Morgan made with the confidence that it would pay off.

PCA’s Jagger Weekly and WC’s Walt Hopson both had their punts downed inside the 5-yard line, allowing the defense to put pressure on the opponent’s offense. In each instance the flipped field position led to touchdowns on later drives that helped the Eagles and Vikings win.

“The kicking game is crucial. We’ve worked on it an awful lot, and our kickers have done a really good job and we’ve given them some support with our coverage unit as well,” Morgan said. “Field position is so many yards. Whether it’s returning or covering kicks, there’s so many yards in there that are hidden yards, and I thought we were able to help ourselves with our units.”

Warren County’s punters have been on point this season. Weekly, Hopson and St. Aloysius’ Connor Smith are all averaging more than 34 yards per punt. Hopson has had 12 of his 28 punts downed inside the 20, and Weekly had two of his three against Claiborne Christian downed there.

Smith did not play in a 35-7 loss to Manchester Academy because of a shoulder injury, but leads Warren County with a 36.8-yard average.

Hopson had a 44-yard punt downed at the Greenville 4-yard line. It led to a turnover and an offensive touchdown for the Vikings on their way to a 41-8 victory.

“I was trying to pin them deep and put our defense in a good spot down there by the goal line,” said Hopson, who also plays safety and had a 60-yard interception return to set up a touchdown against Greenville.

Weekly had a 49-yard punt in the first quarter that showcased his frequent ability to take advantage of a bounce. Half of his 16 punts this season have gone for 40 yards or more, most after traveling 25 or 30 yards in the air and then taking a fast forward roll. His long punt against Claiborne did exactly that, landing near the 35-yard line before eventually being downed at the 18.

“I’ve been going to a lot of kicking camps, so it’s getting really worth it,” said Weekly, who is also the team’s place kicker and is 19-for-23 on PAT attempts and 3-for-4 on field goals this season. “He’s teaching me the technique to holding the ball. Every now and then I mess it up. Sometimes it’s depending on how I kick the ball. It’s hard.”

Weekly also showed he’s got a light touch. In the third quarter, when a PCA drive stalled at the Claiborne 38, Purvis reluctantly brought the punting team onto the field. Weekly’s kick landed at the 6-yard line and took a perfect bounce that forced Claiborne’s returnman to field it at the 3, where he was tackled.

PCA’s defense was able to keep Claiborne on its side of the field through an exchange of possessions, and the Eagles finally took advantage when Glenn Alan Kittrell scored on a 4-yard run late in the third quarter to cut Claiborne’s lead to 9-7.

Weekly never stepped on the field again after kicking the PAT — the Eagles went for it on fourth down three times in the fourth quarter as they tried to rally — but his punt was a key moment in their comeback and eventual 13-9 victory.

“His position has been great. Several times tonight, I felt comfortable putting him out there and punting the ball to flip the field because I thought our defense was playing good,” Purvis said of Weekly. “Ultimately, I believe that helped us score our first touchdown. Some good field position and pinning them back gave us good starting field position on offense.”

Vicksburg Post reporters Brandon O’Connor and Rob Sigler contributed to this report.

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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