Four Down Territory: Shades of Gray, St. Al’s defense scores big, and NFL kickers

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, October 23, 2018

You’re in Four Down Territory. Each week we’ll spotlight four notes, nuggets, stats or trends from the weekend that was in Mississippi high school football, college football, and the NFL.

Over the past two seasons, Warren Central senior Lamar Gray Jr. has emerged as perhaps the team’s best defensive player. The speedy, hard-hitting safety led the team in tackles in 2017, and is atop the list again this year.

On Friday night, he showed he can do a lot more.

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Gray had 15 tackles and an interception on defense. He blocked a punt in the fourth quarter on special teams. And, on offense, he filled in as the Vikings’ primary running back after starter Jerrious Stovall left with a leg injury on the first play of the game.

Gray ran for 54 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner from one yard out in overtime, in a 35-31 win over Clinton that all but put the Vikings into the Class 6A playoffs for the seventh year in a row.

“Our starting back got hurt the first play of the game, so I knew I had to step up and answer the bell,” Gray said.

Gray had played running back before. He had 17 carries for 79 yards and four TDs, mostly in mop up duty, combined in 2016 and 2017. He saw some playing time earlier this season against Northwest Rankin and had 48 yards and a touchdown on only six carries.

On his first series against Clinton he showed he hadn’t forgotten what to do. With the Vikings trailing 14-0 late in the first quarter, Gray carried the ball four times on a five-play, 49-yard touchdown drive. The capper was a bruising, twisting 22-yard touchdown run on which he broke several tackles and showed both speed and power.

In the second quarter, Gray intercepted a pass that led to his second touchdown run, from two yards out. In the fourth quarter he blocked a punt with 4 ½ minutes left that led to another 2-yard run and a 28-28 tie.

Finally, in overtime, on the last of his 15 carries, Gray fought his way through the pile after getting stopped short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. He stretched the ball just across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.

Afterward, while his teammates danced and hugged each other, Gray wandered the sideline in an exhausted daze.

“(Offensive coordinator Rob Morgan) was trying to rest him as much as we could, but we knew when the game was on the line we had to go to him and Lamar was ready to go,” Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan said. “We knew Lamar was going to have to play until his tongue was dragging tonight because of the injuries we had. He was ready to go.”

There wasn’t much good news to be found from Mississippi State’s 19-3 loss to No. 4 LSU on Saturday night.

The Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown for the second time in three games, and have reached the end zone only three times in their last four outings.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was especially bad, going 8-of-24 passing for 59 yards, with four interceptions. He has completed 28 passes in his last three games and has not gone over 100 yards passing or thrown for a touchdown in any of them.

On the bright side, Fitzgerald did have his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season and 18th of his career. That broke Anthony Dixon’s school record, set between 2006 and 2009. He also became the first Southeastern Conference quarterback to surpass the 3,000-yard career rushing mark and joined Dixon and Jerrious Norwood as the only Mississippi State players to accomplish the feat.

St. Aloysius’ best offense continues to be its defense — and maybe its special teams.

Alvin Brown returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown for the final points of a 34-6 victory over Riverfield on Friday. It was St. Al’s sixth touchdown on defense or special teams in the past three games.

Including one field goal and 15 successful PATs by kicker Connor Smith, 54 of St. Al’s 138 points in the past three games have been scored on defense or special teams. The defense has forced eight turnovers and taken five of them to the end zone, while several long punt and kickoff returns have set up scoring drives.

Senior Ryan Theriot is averaging 26.1 yards on 11 kickoff returns this season, and 29.7 yards on 11 punt returns. He has two punt return TDs.

St. Al (6-4) has won five of its last six games heading into this Friday’s playoff opener at Leake Academy.

“(Defensive coordinator Kenny Strong) came up with some good schemes and put them in the right positions,” St. Al coach Michael Fields said. “The guys are flying to the ball and making things happen.”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees checked off two more career milestones on Sunday. He threw his 500th touchdown pass to join Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady as the only NFL quarterbacks to achieve that feat. In guiding the Saints to a 24-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens he also joined Manning and Favre as the only QBs to have beaten every other NFL team.

The most noteworthy milestone, however, was the end of an impressive streak by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. He had made all 222 of his extra point attempts in a seven-year pro career until shanking one that would have tied the game with 24 seconds left.

According to, two kickers in NFL history have made every PAT attempt in their careers, and neither had as many attempts as Tucker.

Tommy Brooker was 149-for-149 while playing for Kansas City from 1962-66. Paul Edinger converted all 164 of his attempts with Chicago and Minnesota from 2000-05.

Two others only missed one PAT in their careers.

Rian Lindell made 432 of 433 attempts for Seattle, Buffalo and Tampa Bay from 2000-13. Lindell made 321 consecutive PATs before missing in Week 8 of the 2010 season.

Billy Cundiff, who kicked for six teams over 12 years, made 274 in a row after missing one early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys and finished 277-for-278.

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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