Gators still clinging to slim playoff hopes

Published 7:55 am Friday, October 26, 2018

The Vicksburg Gators’ playoff hopes aren’t dead yet. In keeping with the theme of the Halloween season, they’re zombified.

The Gators can still reach the postseason, but need to win their last two games and have both Canton and Ridgeland lose their last two. It’s a long shot proposition that the Gators (2-6, 1-4 Region 2-5A) only control a small sliver of. All they can do is their share, and that starts by beating Callaway (4-5, 1-4) at home on Friday night.

“We’ve got to have a bunch of help. We’ve got to have the last two, which is going to be a feat in and of itself. Not because of who we’re playing, just because it’s hard for us to find a win right now,” Vicksburg coach Tim Hughes said.

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The Gators have painted themselves into this corner while fighting through a wave of injuries and inconsistency, which are related.

Injuries forced some players to shuffle to new positions or miss games altogether. That has led to an inability to string together solid team efforts and back-to-back losses to Ridgeland and Canton.

Vicksburg led Ridgeland at halftime before giving up 26 unanswered points to lose 54-30. Last week, it held Canton’s offense in check in the second half but couldn’t overcome a 22-point deficit and lost 42-34.

“Looking at it in the big picture, it’s what’s going to happen every year. It’s a collection of injuries and bad timing, along with who we’re playing at that time,” Hughes said. “We’re healthy enough to go through this game to get a win. And you get one win and see what happens.”

On the bright side, Hughes said he expects to have quarterback Levi Wyatt back in the lineup against Callaway. Wyatt missed all of last week’s practices with a shoulder injury and did not start against Canton. He entered in the second half and went 5-of-9 for 73 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.

The biggest impact of Wyatt’s absence, Hughes said, was the ripple effect it had on the rest of the offense. Tacarie Stewart started at quarterback last week and was 3-of-5 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 173 yards and three TDs on 18 carries, mostly from the wildcat formation.

Although Stewart did well passing the ball, the wildcat is primarily a running formation and made the offense fairly one-dimensional. It also removed the threat of Stewart as a receiver — he has 20 receptions this season — or as another potential runner.

“We’re going to be real smart with Levi this week. He just happens to be one that is such a scheme-changer if you don’t have him back there spinning the pill off his fingers,” Hughes said. “It’s a lot of run game and really focusing in on all three phases of the run game, which is downhill, outside and counter. You get really good at working that game plan as you go. With Levi being able to get back in there, you get back to what a normal situation would be and they get comfortable with it.”

The Gators also need to do a better job on defense. Canton rushed for 231 yards against them, marking the sixth time in eight games that a VHS opponent has run for more than 200 yards. For the season, Vicksburg is allowing an average of 312.5 rushing yards and 44.3 points per game.

Callaway is averaging 186.4 rushing yards per game, and has had 200 or more in five of its eight games. Lakenith Thompson leads the team with 1,142 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s had five 100-yard games this season.

The Chargers haven’t been able to translate that into a lot of success in terms of wins and losses — they’ve sputtered after a 3-1 start, with two region losses by a total of seven points — but will certainly have a chance to get back on track against a Vicksburg defense that plays into its strength.

“They’ve got a running back. He likes to run between the tackles. That’s another game where that’s what we’ll have to get better at, is stopping the run which has been our Achilles this year,” Hughes said.

All things considered, Hughes added, this appears to be a winnable game. And if the Gators can win this one they might have a chance to go into the final week with something to play for against first-place Holmes County Central. At this point, that’s all they can ask for.

“It keeps us going. I think we’ll be in a good situation as far as trying to move forward and do the things we need to do. It’s not unreasonable,” Hughes said of their playoff chances. “The biggest feat of that is probably going to be us being able to get Holmes Central at the end. But if everything else plays out, it’s essentially a playoff game.”

All games start at 7 p.m.

Warren Central at Starkville (Radio: 105.5 FM)
Callaway at Vicksburg (Radio: 107.7 FM/1490 AM)
p-St. Aloysius at Leake Academy (Radio: 101.3 FM)
Greenville at Clinton
Hazlehurst at Port Gibson
p-Riverfield at Central Hinds
Tallulah Academy at Franklin Academy
Riverdale at Briarfield Academy
North Sunflower at Sharkey-Issaquena
Rebul Academy at Wilkinson Christian
Madison Parish at Richwood
p-MAIS Class AAA playoff game

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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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