Vikings embrace underdog mentality

Published 6:36 pm Thursday, November 9, 2017

After his team wrapped up the regular season last week against Provine, with its third shutout in four games and a solid 8-3 record in the books, Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan was asked about their next opponent.

The Vikings must go on the road to play Region 1-6A champion Tupelo (11-0), which just completed its second undefeated regular season in a row, has been ranked No. 2 in Class 6A for most of this year and is a favorite to win the North State championship.

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The Vikings, who finished fourth in Region 2-6A, have held their own against the best teams in Mississippi but will still be an underdog in the eyes of many. Morgan didn’t take that as an insult at all. He flashed a grin and embraced it, the way the program always does.

“That’s the way we like it. We couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” Morgan said.

“We’re happy about it. We’re happy about being in the playoffs. We’re happy about being able to play another game. We’re awfully excited for our trip, and hopefully we’ll have a great week of preparation with that excitement behind it.”

Morgan’s excitement stems from the fact that, despite its underdog status as a No. 4 seed, Warren Central is hardly first-round cannon fodder for an overwhelming juggernaut.

It survived the rugged landscape of Region 2-6A, which contains four of the top eight teams in Class 6A in the final regular-season Mississippi Associated Press poll, and its three losses came to three of those teams — by a total of 18 points. It decisively beat Region 2-6A champion Starkville two weeks ago.

The North side of the Class 6A bracket also appears balanced and open for any of the eight teams to potentially make a run. Morgan called Tupelo the best team in the field, but Warren Central has the capability to pull off an upset on Friday that wouldn’t come as a shock to many.

“As a spectator, to get that kind of matchup in the first round is a gem,” Morgan said. “There’s 16 teams in the playoffs, and I don’t think for one bit that we’re not in the top five. So this first-round matchup is a marquee game. We feel like we’re in that conversation and right at home. Seeding doesn’t matter. We’ve played good football, and good football teams, and this is just the next one.”

Tupelo is, indeed, a very good football team. While Warren Central has hung with the best teams in Mississippi, Tupelo has beaten them.

Since being eliminated by Warren Central in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, the Golden Wave has won 23 of its last 24 games.

The lone loss came in the first round of the playoffs to Madison Central in 2016.

Tupelo also has a built-in advantage as one of the more isolated geographical outposts for Central Mississippi teams to reach. It’s about a four-hour bus ride from Vicksburg, and Morgan said how the Vikings handle their game day preparation will likely be the biggest factor in whether they succeed or not on Friday night.

“We have to travel well. That’s going to be the key. How we pack, how we get our minds right on that long trip, how we eat. That’s the thing that’s going to affect you, is the little stuff,” Morgan said.

“When the time comes, we’re going to play. What we have to handle is the other things.”

They also have to handle a strong Tupelo team that is averaging 37.4 points per game and giving up only 9.9.

Warren Central’s defense has stonewalled everyone for the past month. It has given up one touchdown and 10 points in its last four games and won five out of six overall.

Morgan said that kind of effort, along with what he termed his team’s “unique offense,” are enough to give Tupelo trouble and his team more than a fighting chance this week.

“I like our chances with our defense. We’re playing at a very high level and tackling very well. We’re keeping guys fresh, and I think we’re at a really good place for this time of year,” he said.

“We’ve got to get off the field. Our guys have done a good job with that the last couple of weeks.”

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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