Gators beat Holmes for fourth win in a row

Published 12:28 am Saturday, November 4, 2017

In a game marked by offensive inconsistencies by both teams, it proved to be the Vicksburg High defense and special teams that rose above and led their team to its fourth straight victory.

The Gators defeated Holmes County Central 26-6 Friday night at Memorial Stadium thanks to 13 points from their defense and special teams.

“We got off to kind of a slow start, but we still never wavered and kept fighting for four quarters,” VHS coach Lorenzo Breland said. “We talk about being good in all three phases of the game. Defense is one of those phases and we are just lucky enough to have a lot of guys over there who can make plays.”

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The Gator offense amassed only 192 yards, but the defensive unit that has carried the team throughout the season stepped up once again by making key plays when needed.

With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter and the Jaguars (3-8, 1-6 Region 2-5A) driving on the VHS side of the field for the first time all night, senior linebacker Nick Anderson forced a fumble at the 28-yard line that Jamaal Jefferson scooped and returned 72 yards for the score, putting his team up 16-0.

“Defensively, we come in ready to work every week,” Anderson said. “We look at the game plan and we come in here and execute. Our defense, our philosophy is we stop them long enough for the offense to put some points on the board and we want to score a touchdown a game. That is what we did tonight.”

The fumble return marked the fifth straight game the Gators have scored a defensive touchdown, a stretch during which they have gone 4-1 with their only loss coming in a close fought battle with undefeated Cleveland Central.

“Defensively, we have a battle each week to see who’s going to get a touchdown,” said Anderson, who has scored twice during the touchdown streak. “It is like a boxing match where you are taking jabs and then you slip in an uppercut and knock them out. That’s exactly what it feels like.”

The Gators (5-6, 5-2) scored their first points on the game with 1:42 left in the first quarter when senior kicker Greg Hayden connected on a 27-yard field goal. His biggest kick of the night came in the fourth quarter, though.

After offsetting holding penalties negated a VHS touchdown and the drive stalled at the Holmes County 31-yard line, Hayden connected on a 50-yard field goal to put his team up 26-6 with 2:35 left in the game.

The kick was Hayden’s second 50-plus yard field goal of the season, to go with a 52-yarder he made against Canton two weeks ago.

“Greg does a great job,” Breland said. “He hit a big one against Canton. We knew he had a strong leg and I told him he was going to get some opportunities to take some big kicks down the stretch.”

The negated touchdown leading to Hayden’s field goal was one of two Gator touchdowns called back by penalties. The other came in the second quarter, when a block in the back negated a 38-yard touchdown pass from Joe Johnson to Tyrese Wolfe.

The Gators eventually scored on the drive when Johnson ran it in from the 2-yard line following a 29-yard completion to De’Angelo Dixon.

“We’ve got to get all the guys on the same page,” Breland said of the small mistakes that have plagued his team throughout the season. “Some of them (penalties) are on us and some of them are kind of questionable calls from the refs. We can’t control that and we’ve just got to keep executing.”

Johnson finished the game with 105 passing yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dixon with 6:08 left in the game to put the Gators up 22-6. Johnson was also the team’s leading rusher with 69 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

“We still got the win, but let’s be honest we sucked tonight,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to bring it up. I think it is because of lack of focus in practice with them being 2-8 and us having a big game next week. We’ve just got to go harder next week at practice.”

The Jaguars’ lone score came with 1:42 left in the third quarter, after the teams traded fumbles on consecutive plays to give Holmes the ball at the Vicksburg 10-yard line. Holmes finished with 186 total yards in the game, with only three plays all night going for more than 10 yards.

Friday night’s game marked the end of the regular season for the Gators. They will travel to Olive Branch next week for the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Conquistadors finished second in Region 1-5A and are 10-1 on the season.

“They are very beatable,” Anderson said. “I’ve been watching film and they are very beatable. They have a not-so-good offensive line and we have a great defensive line. We’ve just got to go up there and punch them in the mouth early.”

Friday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
Class 5A playoffs, first round
Vicksburg at Olive Branch