Cleveland edges Gators

Published 12:39 am Saturday, October 7, 2017

In a game that had the makings of a potential blowout on paper, the Vicksburg Gators showed they have turned a corner in their season as they hung with the undefeated Cleveland Central Wolves throughout the game Friday before falling 21-14.

The Gators (1-6, 1-3 Region 2-5A) secured their first win of the season last week at Neshoba Central and carried that momentum into Friday night’s matchup at Memorial Stadium, but couldn’t come away with the win desptie holding a lead in the fourth quarter.

“That is a good football team we played tonight,” Vicksburg coach Lorenzo Breland said. “They’re not undefeated for no reason. Like I told the kids, if we come in and play our game and execute, it doesn’t matter what the game said before. It matters what happens Friday night. It came down to three or four plays here, a miscommunication there, other than that I am proud of the effort the guys showed.”

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Cleveland Central (8-0, 3-0) took an early 7-0 lead on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kamarian Williams to Traveyon Craig with 6:48 left in the first quarter, but the Vicksburg defense cut into the deficit with a score of their own on the Wolves’ next possession.

Two Gator defenders broke through the line, sacked Williams and forced a fumble at the Vicksburg 34-yard line. Linebacker Rasheed Knight scooped the loose football off the ground and raced 66 yards to the end zone to make the score 7-6 with 10:43 left in the first half.

That proved to be the final score of the half, as the Gators went into the locker room trailing by a point despite running just 12 offensive plays in the first half.

The Gators received the opening kickoff of the second half and put together their only sustained drive of the game, marching 79 yards in 13 plays and draining more than six minutes off the clock to take a 14-7 lead following a two-point conversion.

“At halftime, I just told them we’ve got to come out. We knew we had the ball coming out of the second half and we wanted to get a good long drive, which we did,” Breland said. “We sustained that long drive.”

The Gators threw only two passes for 22 yards in the first half, but put the ball in quarterback Joe Johnson’s hand coming out of halftime. He completed six passes for 52 yards on the drive and also ran three times, including punching it in from the 4-yard line for the score. Johnson finished the game 12-of-20 passing for 107 yards.

“We had saw some things first half that we tried to exploit and we tried to take advantage of,” Breland said. “We did that a little bit. We moved the ball around pretty good passing it so just trying to find what works. We knew we had what we wanted in the pass game, we knew we had to sustain a drive to play defense on offense and keep their offense off the field.”

The Gator defense matched the intensity of the offense coming out of the half and forced fumbles on each of the Wolves’ first two plays of the third quarter, both of which were recovered by linebacker Nick Anderson.
Defensive end Deandre Moore forced the first fumble at the Wolves’ 35-yard line and defensive back Elmer Johnson forced the second at the Wolves’ 44.

“We felt disrespected because we came out and they were warming up in our end zone,” Anderson said. “Coach just fired us up and told us that is like them coming to our house and cooking food in our kitchen and putting their feet on our couch. We took it as disrespect and defensively we came out there and punched them in the mouth.”

Despite their success on the opening drive of the third quarter, VHS’ offense failed to capitalize on either of the turnovers that gave them two drives starting in Cleveland territory and a chance to take the lead, going three-and-out both times.

Cleveland Central’s offense found its groove on its next two drives of the second half, marching down the field for scores both times to reclaim the lead and earn the 21-14 victory. Williams finished the game 23-for-27 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to Craig. Craig had 126 receiving yards on eight catches.

“Later on in the game, sometimes the emotions get too high after a turnover,” Breland said. “Things like that and we got that penalty that backed us up and that stalled us out a little bit. We’ve just got to continue to clean it up, fix it and be able to capitalize with points when we get those turnovers.”