Warren Central’s defense has been shutting down opposing offenses of late

Published 7:18 pm Monday, November 6, 2017

Looking back, Warren Central’s defensive “struggles” this season really amounted to one bad game and a handful of broken plays.

That was enough to send the coaching staff back to the drawing board, however, and the solution they came up with has made a solid unit even better and more dangerous.

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The Vikings have three shutouts in their last four games, and gave up only 10 points in the other game. The latest gem was a 28-0 shutout of Provine in which they allowed 160 total yards and never let the Rams inside the 20-yard line.

“That’s great. They’re (shutouts) hard to come by, especially now with everybody’s offenses,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “It’s good to see us playing good defense. It’s good to have a lot of pride in that. I don’t think tonight we were threatened very much as far as in the red zone. I thought we controlled the game until we could get our feet up under us offensively. It was just an outstanding job.”

Warren Central (8-3) has usually had one of the better defenses in Class 6A since Morgan took over as head coach in 2010, but got off to a sluggish start this season.

The defense let a two-touchdown lead slip away in an early-season loss to Pearl, then gave up 38 points and nearly 300 passing yards in a 38-31 loss to Northwest Rankin on Sept. 22. Most of the yardage in the latter loss came on several big plays where defenders fell down or missed tackles — isolated mistakes, but still enough to convince Morgan to change things up.

He moved linebacker Jeremy Miller to defensive end, and brought Malik Sims off the bench to fill Miller’s spot. Lamar Gary was also moved from linebacker to safety to provide help on the back end. Mixed in with a few minor scheme adjustments, the results have been devastatingly effective.

Warren Central has allowed a total of 49 points in six games since the changes were made, with 31 of those coming in an overtime loss against Madison Central. The defense has had 60 tackles for loss in those same six games, including 27 the last two weeks in shutout victories against Starkville and Provine.

After forcing eight turnovers in their first five games, the Vikings have 16 in their last six.

Sims, who had nine tackles before the switch, has 36 since then. He had 11 against Starkville.

“We felt like we could have a good defense, and they’re playing well as a unit. I think they’re understanding the concept of all 11 playing defense a certain way. They’re fitting the right way, and those little minor things are starting to click,” Morgan said. “I feel like we can play the run good. We have to make sure we’re good on the back end of making tackles and taking away long passes, and we’ve been able to do that. It’s been a good fit for us. They’ve taken a lot of pride in what they’re doing.”

And they’re playing well enough to make the Vikings one of the most dangerous teams in the Class 6A playoff bracket.

They’ll have a difficult task this week when they go on the road to face Region 1-5A champion Tupelo (11-0) in the first round. The Golden Wave are averaging 37.3 points per game and completed their second consecutive undefeated regular season with a 34-8 blowout of Oxford last week.

The Vikings are red hot, however, and winners of four consecutive games. They’ve already faced three teams in the top five of the latest Mississippi Associated Press poll — they themselves were ranked fifth — and are confident about their chances against the final team on their to-do list.

Especially if the defense continues to play the way it has over the past month.

“It feels real good to take care of business and go into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak,” Miller, who has 68 tackles and four sacks, said after the win over Provine. “It gives us a confidence boost. We feel real confident. We’re not going to get too hot. We’re just going to do what we’ve got to do to come back with a win.”

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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