Canton beats Vicksburg with last-minute touchdown
CANTON — All season long, the Vicksburg Gators have desperately been seeking ways to win a game.
On Thursday night they discovered a new and painful way to lose one.
A bad punt snap gave Canton the ball deep in Vicksburg territory with just over a minute remaining, and the Tigers cashed in with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jacobian Morgan to Tyquan Henderson to beat the Gators 37-33.
Morgan’s third touchdown pass of the night capped a wild game that featured three lead changes in the fourth quarter. Vicksburg (1-8, 0-5 Region 2-5A) lost its seventh consecutive game and was officially eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s unfortunate for these kids, because once again it’s another game where they played hard. They fought, they scratched, they did everything they could to get into it, and it was a lack of a detail that cost us there at the end,” Hughes said. “It’s definitely a proud moment, but it turns into heartache too, because you see it on these kids’ faces. They fight for you and do everything, and you want something good to happen for them. It’s a lot of heartache to not see them reap the rewards.”
Morgan finished the game 13-of-24 passing for 168 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions for Canton (6-3, 2-3). Tyrease Dunbar caught five passes for 109 yards and two TDs, including a 60-yarder in the third quarter that he bobbled and regained control of while on the run.
Cedric Phillips ran for 218 yards and two touchdowns for Vicksburg. Quarterback Sha’Kori Regan was 6-of-11 passing for 76 yards and two touchdowns, and added 96 yards and one touchdown rushing.
For as good an offensive night as the Gators had, the game’s outcome turned on their inability to get one yard when they needed it most.
Regan’s 4-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter put the Gators ahead 33-30, and then Canton’s Jose Martinez missed a 24-yard field goal wide right on the ensuing possession.
The Gators got the ball back with a chance to run out the clock, and soon faced third-and-1 at the 29-yard line with about two minutes to go. Phillips was stopped for no gain to bring up fourth down, a false start penalty backed them up five more yards, and that was when a cascading chain of events played out in bizarre fashion.
Vicksburg’s normal long snapper was out with an illness, and Hughes said the backup was not comfortable with snapping to 10 or 15 yards instead of four or five like in a normal formation. Twice earlier in the game the Gators had left Regan in the shallower shotgun formation to take a normal snap and kick the ball, but those punts traveled only 12 and 16 yards.
So, in this crucial situation, starting punter Keveon Smith lined up somewhere between the two distances and disaster ensued.
The snap sailed off target to Smith’s right and he had to chase it down. Smith tried his best to run with the ball, but was tackled by a pack of defenders at the 12-yard line with 1:16 left in the game.
Three plays later Morgan hit Henderson for the go-ahead touchdown on a 5-yard slant pass, and the Tigers were ahead 37-33 with 42 seconds remaining.
“We put our regular punter in there, but we put him in there in the quick kick situation. He’s usually 12 yards deep and our regular center is only snapping it five yards. So there was some disparity there. (Smith) didn’t want to be up too close and (the center) is sitting there saying I can’t get it back that far,” Hughes said. “We wanted to try to make a move to put the quarterback in there, not to go for it but just to let him do it because he’s used to doing it. But that didn’t happen. I probably should have burned a timeout there and gotten that straightened up. But I didn’t and it came back to bite me.”
The Gators had one more chance. They started near midfield after a short kickoff and good return, and converted a fourth down with 12 seconds left to get the ball to the Canton 40.
Regan injured his arm on the third down play, however, and had to leave the game. Backup QB Dylan Whitfield was heavily pressured on the game’s final play, and his desperation pass was intercepted by Canton’s Lendylan Gardner as time expired.
“You always want to take some positives in that we can get some stops and move the ball around and score. It’s definitely positives on the heart they have. But it’s heartbreaking, too,” Hughes said.