Gray carries Vikings past Clinton in overtime

Published 1:41 am Saturday, October 20, 2018

Warren Central’s season — everything it had worked for, strived for and hoped for since August — came down to one play and one yard Friday night.

Fourth-and-goal from the 1. In overtime. Needing a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, and everybody in the stadium knowing who was getting the ball.

Lamar Gray took the handoff and got stuffed short of the end zone. Somehow, in the mass of bodies, he managed to keep moving and stretch the ball toward the goal line. When everything finally stopped, the ball was touching the line and the official’s hands were in the air.

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Gray’s effort gave Warren Central a 35-31 victory that it needed to keep its playoff hopes alive, in the most thrilling way possible.

“I stuck it out. Probably half an inch. But it got there,” Gray said of his touchdown. “It’s amazing. There’s nothing like it in the world, to win it for your guys that have been working hard.”

Lamar Gray Jr.

Warren Central (4-4, 3-2 Region 2-6A) is not in the playoffs yet. It still needs to beat either Starkville or Provine in its last two games, or have Clinton (6-3, 2-3) lose to either Greenville or Starkville. What Friday’s game did, however, was give Warren Central a tiebreaker edge on Clinton for the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 2-6A, which equals a two-game lead with two to play.

“This win is a huge shot in the arm to our team and our guys,” said Warren Central coach Josh Morgan, whose team won its first home game of the season. “We’ve had some things not go our way, and this is a big swing for us. Games don’t get any bigger than this one with what was at stake. As far as momentum this was huge for us and we’ll ride it as long as we can.”

The Vikings rode not only Gray’s last-ditch effort to victory, but a couple of big comebacks as well. They tied the game at halftime after falling behind 14-0 early, then overcame a second 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Gray was the driving force behind it all.

The senior played on offense, defense and special teams, and had an impact in all three phases of the game. He intercepted a pass to set up a short touchdown drive in the second quarter, and blocked a punt with 4 ½ minutes left in the game to set up the tying score.

Most of the time, he finished the scoring drives off as well.

Pressed into duty as a running back after starter Jerrious Stovall left with an injury on the first play, Gray responded by carrying the ball 15 times for 54 yards and four touchdowns. He scored on runs of 22 and 2 yards in the first half, and 2 yards again with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28.

“I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about the outcome and getting the win. We handled that,” Gray said.

After Gray’s third touchdown, Clinton opted to run out the clock and play for overtime. It got the ball first in the extra period and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Tucker Barefoot to go ahead 31-28.

Warren Central got the ball next and moved it to the 1-yard line with a pair of runs by quarterback Antonio Thompson. Gray got the ball on third down and was stopped for a loss, but an offsides penalty on Clinton moved it back to the 1 for fourth down.

There was no doubt that the Vikings were going for the win, or that Gray was getting the ball. Offensive coordinator Rob Morgan, however, improvised a way to get him into the end zone. He put defensive tackles Vertez Shorter and Tyrel Smith in as lead blockers.

“If we couldn’t get it in, then it just wasn’t going to happen,” Josh Morgan said. “The play before they submarined everything. We went unbalanced with a timeout and made that adjustment and found a way to get a yard. That’s the best group, collectively, that we had. You find out a lot about a team at the 1-yard line.”

Thompson lined up in the pistol formation and gave the ball to Gray, who was hit again at the 1-yard line. His body never crossed the goal line, but he managed to push the ball just far enough across it to score the touchdown.

The Vikings erupted in celebration while the Arrows walked off the field or sat there for a moment in disbelief.

Officials forced Warren Central to kick the extra point — presumably for the purposes of settling point differential tiebreakers if needed — unopposed. Clinton was walking across the field to the locker room behind them while John William Madison knocked it through for the 35-31 final score.

The final play everyone will remember, however, was Gray’s touchdown that capped a remarkable individual effort and a remarkable game. Warren Central had lost twice in the final minute on its home field this season. This one, the one that mattered most, finally went its way and likely ensured there will be some extra football in its future.

“It’s almost like our season. That one last play, if we don’t get it, it’s like an accumulation of things that have happened to these guys,” Morgan said. It was a game changer. This is something that can turn your season around. The Good Lord was with us tonight, no doubt about it.”

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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