Vikings knock out Clinton

Published 12:37 am Saturday, October 21, 2017

CLINTON — Against the team that ended its season last year, Warren Central earned the right to fight another day.

In an win or be eliminated game for both teams, the Vikings overcame multiple early miscues to beat longtime rival Clinton 28-10 on Friday night and effectively eliminate the defending Class 6A champions from this year’s playoff picture.

By earning the head-to-head tiebreaker, Warren Central (6-3, 3-2 Region 2-6A) moved two games ahead of Clinton (4-5, 2-3) with two left in the regular season and all but clinched a playoff berth of its own.

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The Vikings sit securely in the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 2-6A with region games against first-place Starkville and Provine remaining. Clinton finishes the season with road games at Greenville and Starkville.

“We all knew what was at stake and I thought we were very, very determined and they had to earn it. I thought they did that tonight,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “We just wanted to win. Every district game counts. Whoever it was and whatever circumstance. We always have very good games and it always comes down to a couple plays here and there. We were just happy to get a win.”

The Vikings trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter after having two touchdowns called back due to penalties. That included a 100-yard kickoff return following the Arrows’ 39-yard field goal with 4:10 left.

In the second quarter the Arrows drove 77 yards, chewing more than three minutes off the clock as they reached the Vikings’ 3-yard line. With their backs against the wall and facing the possibility of falling behind 10-0, the Vikings made one of their biggest plays of the season by forcing and recovering a fumble.

“They brought the heavy package in with their big offensive linemen and they were trying to quick count us and catch us off guard,” Morgan said. “It was really kind of an unforced error. We were coming, but they were trying to quick count it on the line of scrimmage and they missed that fullback exchange and we were able to get on that ball as a big play.”

The fumble proved to be the momentum switch the Vikings needed. Two plays later, quarterback F.J. Barnum found Corey Wilson open down the field for an 85-yard pass to set Warren Central up at the Clinton 12-yard line. Wilson punched it in five plays later from the 1-yard line to give his team the lead for good.

“The safety was sitting in the middle of the field and left Corey one-on-one with a linebacker and I hit him,” Barnum said. “We’ve got weapons, but Corey is our big guy. If he gets the ball he can do anything with it.”

Wilson finished the game with three rushing touchdowns and 119 rushing yards, all but 21 of which came in the second half.

“Corey probably ran harder than he has all year tonight,” Morgan said. “We challenged him to do that. We challenged him to be not average. We challenged him to be great and he took a step in the right direction.”

Wilson said he ran behind his pads more this week, which contributed to his breakout game on the ground.

“I just felt like we had to end the game,” Wilson said of his big second half. “I had to step up.”

The 85-yard pass from Barnum to Wilson was one of four plays of at least 40 yards the Vikings produced in the game. Their big play potential was on full display on their first drive of the second half as they marched 80 yards in only three plays, including runs of 29 and 40 yards by Wilson, to go up 14-3.

“I think we calmed down,” Morgan said of the change that led to the offensive explosion after halftime. “When you are going into a game like this, of this magnitude, kids are overwhelmed with excitement. They have been walking and pacing all day. That had to settle down and that is what we told them at halftime.”

Clinton scored its lone touchdown of the game with 3:45 left in the third quarter on an 83-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Hulsey to Christian Johnson. That came one play after Wilson put Warren Central up 21-3 with his third touchdown of the night.

Barnum scored the Vikings’ final touchdown with 2:26 left in the game after breaking free for a 73-yard run to set his team up at the Clinton 9-yard line. He finished with 146 yards rushing and 129 more passing.

The game worked to remove the bitter taste of last year’s overtime playoff loss to the Arrows, as this time around it was the Vikings who effectively ended Clinton’s season.

“We were talking about that before the game,” senior safety Walt Hopson said. “Some of us still had the taste in our mouth since last year and we were not going to let that happen again.”