Warren Central, Clinton renew rivalry with a playoff spot on the line
Published 8:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2017
The last time Warren Central and Clinton squared off on the football field, it was an elimination game in the playoffs where the winner kept their state championship hopes alive and the loser’s season was over.
It’s been 11 months since that epic overtime struggle at Viking Stadium. Some of the faces have changed, but the stakes are the same.
When the Vikings (5-3, 2-2 Region 2-6A) and Arrows (4-4, 2-2) renew their rivalry Friday in Clinton, it’ll be an elimination game in Region 2-6A. The winner seems all but assured of a playoff berth and the loser will play out the string the last two weeks of the regular season.
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“We’ve handled our business to make this game the important one that it is,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “At this point in time it truly is do or die.”
As if to hammer that point home, Warren Central’s players had the message smack them in the face when they arrived for practice earlier this week. Large pieces of paper with Clinton’s logo and the phrase, “Win and we are in” were taped to every locker in the fieldhouse.
It’s a simple sentence, but very true.
Warren Central and Clinton are tied for fourth place in a region where only four teams qualify for the playoffs. They both still must face first-place Starkville, but have also both lost to second-place Madison Central and third-place Northwest Rankin. Because the head-to-head result is the first tiebreaker, a loss Friday would drop either Warren Central or Clinton two games behind the other with two to play.
It’s a scenario that’s a bit unsatisfying for the defending Class 6A champions and the only team that beat them last year, but Morgan accepted it for what it was.
“We knew there was going to be a good football team in this district that didn’t get in, and here we and Clinton sit,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s resignation might stem from the apparent inevitability of a showdown between these two longtime rivals. Warren Central leads the all-time series 26-25, and it has been just as close on a game-to-game basis in recent years.
Four of their six meetings since 2012 have been decided by a touchdown or less. Three of those were decided by a total of four points, and last year’s playoff game was a 27-21 Clinton victory in overtime.
The only blowout during that stretch came in the regular season last year, and even it seemed a play away from joining the group. After trailing 30-3 at halftime, Clinton scored two quick touchdowns at the start of the third quarter and narrowly missed recovering an onside kick at midfield following the second one. Warren Central re-established control and went on to win 50-32 to hand Clinton its only loss of the season.
“It’s been a lot at stake each time we play. The last several years, it’s been good games,” Morgan said. “This is an important game already, and throw what’s at stake on top of it and it has the look and feel of one of those special games that’s fun to get ready for and play in.”
As for what’s changed, it’s mostly the personnel. Clinton lost star quarterback Cam Akers, now a starting running back at Florida State, and several other key players. Warren Central had three 1,000-yard rushers graduate and replaced 18 of the 22 starters from last year’s playoff game against the Arrows.
New Clinton quarterback Hunter Hulsey has filled in well for Akers, throwing for 1,989 yards, 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 201 attempts.
Morgan said the strong passing game makes the Arrows dangerous, but also noted his team has done well against the pass. It has 17 sacks and 17 takeaways, and has scored five defensive touchdowns this season.
The Vikings made several personnel moves on defense after giving up 647 passing yards in consecutive weeks to Northwest Rankin and Greenville. They’ve allowed less than 100 through the air the following two games.
“A team that can throw it and catch it is dangerous,” Morgan said. “There’s a lot that can go wrong throwing the ball around, too, and that’s our job to make it that way.”
FRIDAY’S AREA GAMES
All games start at 7 p.m.
Warren Central at Clinton (Radio: 105.5 FM)
Vicksburg at Canton (Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM)
Park Place at Porter’s Chapel (Radio: 104.5 FM)
St. Aloysius at Riverfield (Radio: 101.3 FM)
Washington School at Central Hinds
Kemper Academy at Sharkey-Issaquena
Collegiate Christian at Briarfield Academy
Franklin Academy at Rebul Academy
Tensas Academy at Tallulah Academy
Wilkinson County at Port Gibson