Gators recalibrate after rare rainout

Published 7:55 am Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Vicksburg Gators sat and waited last Friday night for their turn to get on the field. Already facing the late kickoff in the Red Carpet Bowl doubleheader, they had to recalibrate their postgame routine when lightning delayed the first game for more than an hour.

Later, they had to recalibrate again when lightning struck a second time and their opener against Clarksdale was canceled. It brought an early end to a long and frustrating evening for the Gators, as they turned their attention toward a new season opener this Friday at Clinton.

“I was having a hard enough time staying put until 8 o’clock. And I was having a hard enough time keeping these kids in here because they wanted to play,” Vicksburg coach Tim Hughes said. “It was something we really wanted. Something we really wanted to make happen. We put in so much work for this. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t happen. The disappointment is there, because of the payoff. You want to be able to show everything you put in.”

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The cancellation — the first caused by weather in the Red Carpet Bowl’s 56-year history — delayed Hughes’ debut as head coach and set the Gators back a bit in their development. They didn’t play a jamboree game the week before, so their only live action has been the spring game in mid-May.

Hughes dealt with a similar situation last season while coaching in Texas, when Hurricane Harvey forced a number of teams to cancel early-season games. He expected Friday’s cancellation to have some lingering effects during the first month of the season.

“When it happened last year in Texas, it was Week 3 and the team we had to play was fortunate enough to not be hindered by the hurricane. So we were playing our Week 1 and their Week 3,” Hughes said. “We didn’t have a jamboree either, so now their Week 2 is still going to be our Week 1. We’re always a week behind. By the time you get to district, everybody is four or five weeks in and where you want to be.”

Although there was obvious disappointment, Hughes added that there was no other option to canceling the game with Clarksdale. The second weather delay occurred at 7:50 p.m. and would have lasted a minimum of 30 minutes even if Warren Central and Oxford had not come back out to finish their game. That meant the Vicksburg-Clarksdale kickoff would not have been before about 9 p.m. at the earliest, and most likely later than that as lightning continued to flicker across the sky.

With travel considerations for Clarksdale, as well as other logistical issues for fans and game operations, rescheduling also was not an option and Hughes said everyone was ready to call it a night and move on with their season.

“It’s not even the letdown. It’s the, ‘Is it?’ and then it’s back down. Is it? And then it’s back down. These kids were exhausted from wanting to play. It was enough to keep them harnessed for that amount of time, much less not getting to play after it,” Hughes said. “It’s time to channel that energy and let’s try to get a big win next week.”

One benefit the Gators might receive from the cancellation is the preservation of the turf at Memorial Stadium.

When the Red Carpet Bowl was last played there in 2016, it also rained and the field was severely damaged by back-to-back games. Vicksburg had to move a home game against Terry the following week to a road game as the field was repaired.

Warren Central and Oxford chewed up the muddy turf by playing the first half of their game Friday. Not playing a second game, and having a week on the road before Vicksburg returns home to face Warren Central on Aug. 31, should provide plenty of time to get it back into game shape.

“We’ll probably have to roll it (Saturday) and put some sand on it Monday,” Vicksburg Warren School District athletic director Preston Nailor said Friday night. “We don’t play here for two weeks, so we’ve got some time. It’ll be ready for the Vicksburg and Warren Central game.”

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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