Late fumble return TD lifts Madison Central over Warren Central

Published 2:37 am Saturday, October 6, 2018

Friday’s game between Warren Central and Madison Central was, as usual, an instant classic.

And, as has too often been the case for the Vikings in recent years, the result was difficult to stomach.

Madison Central linebacker Hayes Bufkin scored the game-winning touchdown on a scoop-and-score fumble return with 56 seconds left to give the Jaguars a 24-17 win over Warren Central at Viking Stadium.

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It was the seventh time in eight meetings between the teams that the game was decided by seven points or less. It was the third in a row in which the winning points were scored in the final minute of regulation or overtime, and Madison Central has won all of them.

“It’s hard because of my feelings for the boys. They played very hard and prepared very hard, and had a lot invested in this game. Just to see it snatched from them like that is tough, because I want it for them,” Warren Central coach Josh Morgan said. “This was a big game for us for many different reasons. We played to win and prepared to win, so it’s tough to swallow.”

The loss dropped the Vikings (2-4, 1-2 Region 2-6A) perilously close to dropping out of the Region 2-6A playoff race. They’ve already lost to two of the region’s top contenders and have two games left against the other two, Clinton and Starkville. One more loss would almost certainly eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention, but two wins would likely put them into the postseason.

Warren Central will go on the road next week to face Murrah before taking on Clinton and Starkville in back-to-back weeks.

“One week at a time. We’ve been here. We were here last year, at 1-2 in the district. We have to stay together, keep fighting, keep improving and handle our business next week to get to 2-2. If we’ll do that, we’ll set up another big game,” Morgan said. “That’s the hand that we’re dealt. We’re going to be either optimistic about it or pessimistic about it. We won’t stop fighting and preparing. That’s our best choice, and we’re going to take it and run with it.”

Friday’s game seemed there for the taking until the late fumble turned it in Madison Central’s (6-1, 3-0) favor.

The Vikings rushed for 310 yards — their third game this season with 300 yards or more — and led 14-10 at halftime. Quarterback Antonio Thompson finished with 78 yards and a touchdown, Corey Wilson scored on a 15-yard run in the second quarter, and Jerrious Stovall totaled 176 yards on 24 carries.

Madison Central, however, took the second half kickoff and embarked on an 80-yard scoring drive that took more than 5 ½ minutes off the clock. The Jaguars converted two fourth downs on the way to Duke Arnold’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave them a 17-14 lead.

Arnold finished with 127 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries.

“They attacked us a little bit differently than the first half. We felt pretty good about the adjustments that we made, but they made a little switch coming out of the half and we let them get the momentum of the second half by taking the opening drive and scoring,” Morgan said.

Warren Central had a five-minute drive of its own in the fourth quarter that resulted in John William Madison’s game-tying 27-yard field goal with 5:51 remaining.

Madison Central answered with a drive that stalled just inside the 20, and kicker Cale Nation missed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide to the left. That gave the Vikings the ball back at the 20-yard line with 1:39 to go.

On second down, Thompson scrambled toward the right sideline and, under heavy pressure, raised his arm to throw the ball away. Instead, it slipped out and took one bounce off the turf and into the hands of Bufkin. The junior scooped it up in stride and sprinted untouched to the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

Warren Central had one more chance, but its final desperation drive ended with a sack at midfield as time expired.

“(Defensive end Tyrese) Swan made an awesome play. He saw the quarterback roll out, he got him, the quarterback made a fumble and it was right there in my hands,” Bufkin said. “It was perfect.”

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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