After power failure, venue change, Gators upset Holmes County Central

Published 12:13 am Saturday, November 9, 2019

Ten minutes before kickoff on Friday night, a wayward balloon, a power line and a transformer got together and began a long, strange night for Vicksburg High and Holmes County Central.

When it was finally over, the destination was as fun as the journey for the Gators.

Keveon Smith returned a kickoff 70 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 3 ½ minutes remaining, and Vicksburg finished its season by upsetting Holmes County Central 28-27 in its season finale.

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The game was moved across town, on the fly, to Warren Central’s Viking Stadium because of a power failure at Vicksburg’s Memorial Stadium. The impromptu road trip provided a unique and memorable conclusion to the 2019 season for the Gators.

“Here’s what’s weird about it. It would have been real easy to find a way not to play that game, but every kid on our team wanted to play it,” Vicksburg head coach Tim Hughes said.

The team captains had just come out of the locker room for the coin toss when Memorial Stadium went dark. A mylar balloon, likely let loose during the pregame senior night celebration, caught on a power line along behind the home stands and caused a transformer to explode with a loud boom.

With the transformer still sending out sparks and small flames, Hughes, Holmes coach Marcus Rogers, and game officials huddled at midfield to discuss a plan of action. Once it was obvious the power would not come back on, the decision was made to put everyone on buses and play six miles away at the vacant Viking Stadium.

Warren Central was on the road at South Panola on Friday night.

By 8:15 p.m., less than 90 minutes after the transformer blew up — and after moving some soccer goals out of the way — the teams, fans and band had all relocated and were kicking off under working lights. The Gators and Jaguars played 10-minute quarters and shortened halftime to speed things along.

“One of the principals at Warren Central helped us out. He had everything on and everything opened up for us when we got there. And then our principal, Dr. Tameka Davis, turned into Miss Hustle running around doing all kinds of things,” Hughes said. “We had a good crowd. They brought theirs with them, and they might as well have gone since they were here, and ours went too.”

Once the action got under way, Holmes jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead. A fumble return touchdown and a 2-yard run by Reko Walden staked the Jaguars.

Vicksburg answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass from running back Cedric Phillips to Smith on the final play of the first half, then tied it on a 2-yard run by Phillips in the third quarter to begin a series of lead changes.

Walden scored on a 6-yard run, then Phillips on a 29-yard reception, and dueling two-point conversions tied it again at 21. Holmes regained the lead with just under four minutes to play, but missed the extra point to open the door for the Gators.

Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown and Chris Williams converted the PAT to put Vicksburg ahead 28-27.

Holmes turned the ball over on downs with 1:36 remaining on its final possession, and the Gators were able to run out the clock.

Phillips finished with only 39 rushing yards on 10 carries, but caught three passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. He had one touchdown rushing, passing and receiving. Smith caught two passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and added the kickoff return TD.

“What helps is usually you get down and you panic a little bit. That never happened,” Hughes said. “It would have been very easy to say here we go again, and we didn’t do that.”

The loss did not hurt Holmes (8-4, 5-2 Region 2-5A). It was locked in as the No. 2 seed from Region 2-5A and will host Lafayette in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A playoffs next week.

The victory, however, provided a big boost to the Gators (3-8, 2-5) heading into the offseason. They missed the playoffs, but finished with a two-game winning streak and a second straight come-from-behind victory. They rallied from 17 down in the second half the previous week to beat Callaway and end a seven-game losing streak.

Earlier this season, Vicksburg lost three games in which it held a lead or was tied in the fourth quarter.

“We had so many games that were so close, where one decision or one play could have gone one way or the other and we could have had four more wins,” Hughes said. “They were coming to put it on us. Every other team that we lost to, (Holmes) beat. We ended up on the bad end, but to get a win tonight you’re redeemed. That’s a powerful feeling to give an individual.”

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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