Gators beat Callaway to keep playoff hopes alive

Published 1:43 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

No matter how their last-ditch, long shot quest for a playoff berth turns out, the Vicksburg Gators at least made sure that they’ll see it through to the end.

Tacarie Stewart finished with 197 total yards — 140 rushing and 57 receiving — and scored one touchdown, and Levi Wyatt threw two of his three touchdown passes in the second half as the Gators beat Callaway 35-28 on Friday night.

The win, coupled with losses by Ridgeland and Canton, kept alive Vicksburg’s (3-6, 2-4 Region 2-5A) hopes of reaching the Class 5A playoffs. It still needs to beat first-place Holmes County Central on the road next week, and have both Ridgeland and Canton lose again.

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Callaway (4-6, 1-5) was eliminated from playoff contention.

“It’s maximum effort and attitude. We all had the right frame of mind,” Vicksburg coach Tim Hughes said. “We all played together, with one another and for one another. It’s just that step, and the good thing is when you get to experience that it feels good and you know how to do that the next time.”

The much-maligned Vicksburg defense gave up 278 rushing yards and let most of a 21-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, but also came up with a number of clutch plays.

Roy Qualls sacked and stripped the ball from Callaway quarterback Wesley Corbitt late in the third quarter, and Zyon Scott returned it 32 yards for a touchdown that put the Gators ahead 28-14.

Scott also had an interception in the final minute that sealed the victory. The Gators finished with four turnovers — one of them on special teams — and four sacks. Qualls had two sacks.

“The scoring and big stops, and in the ins and outs of the game they played it the way we asked them to play it. A couple of times it didn’t and we have to make that adjustment, but it was good to see them grow in that kind of discipline,” Hughes said.

The game was tied 7-7 late in the first half, and then Vicksburg took control with a couple of scoring drives that wrapped around halftime.

Stewart turned a third-down screen pass into a 42-yard gain into the red zone and set up teammate Cedric Phillips for a 2-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds left in the first half. The Gators then took the second-half kickoff and drove 69 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 7-yard TD pass from Wyatt to Deandre McCalpin, to go up 21-7.

Scott’s scoop-and-score and a 45-yard touchdown pass from Wyatt to Wolfe made it 35-14 with 9:57 left in the game.

Wolfe credited the defense, which got the one touchdown and a turnover on downs on back-to-back possessions, for the surge.

“The offense, you know we’re always going to do our thing. The defense, we shut down their running game. Nobody can do anything with us in the air. Looking at the people who stepped up for us, the underclassmen did their thing,” said Wolfe, who finished with two receptions for 57 yards.

Callaway threw a scare into the Gators, however. Lakenith Thompson carried the ball six times for 46 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown. The Chargers then recovered an onside kick and went 50 yards in five plays, finished off by a 23-yard TD run by Liqouri Young and a successful two-point conversion, to cut it to 35-28 with 4:13 left in the game.

The two drives combined took nearly six minutes off the clock. Thompson finished the game with 134 yards and two touchdowns rushing, while Adarius Bennett had 11 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown.

“When they get an onside kick, that’s what happens,” Hughes said. “I don’t think we did anything wrong. They decided to run the big guy (Thompson) down three scores. Ultimately it worked out. I’m OK with it. It played out the way we wanted it to play out, other than not being able to get the onside kick.”

After Vicksburg got the ball back, it closed out the game with some ball control offense of its own. Stewart carried on six of seven plays, including a couple out of the wildcat formation, to bleed 3 ½ minutes off the clock. The Gators punted back to Callaway with 33 seconds left, but the Chargers got the ball back at their own 6-yard line.

Young, playing quarterback in place of the injured Corbitt, threw one short pass and then an interception to Scott with 20 seconds to go that sealed it.

“Just for the seniors, the seniors came in and did their thing. And the freshmen and the younger people came in and made plays for us when we needed them,” Wolfe said.

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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