Gators hit reset button with Region 2-5A, home opener against Canton

Published 3:31 pm Thursday, September 8, 2022

When the dust settles and the season is over, the Vicksburg Gators still plan to be part of the MHSAA Class 5A championship conversation.

A gut-wrenching 0-2 start has not changed that one bit.

The Gators lost their first two games by a combined total of six points. They’ll now wipe the slate clean when they host Canton (1-1) in the Region 2-5A opener Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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“It’s a three-season season. Non-conference play is to prepare you for your district,” Vicksburg coach Todd McDaniel said. “Of course we wanted to go 2-0, but it didn’t work out. It has still adequately prepared us for the most important games of the year, and that’s district, and that goes into the third season which is the playoffs.”

The road to the playoffs begins against a Canton team that split its first two games, beating Velma Jackson and then losing 35-22 to Germantown — the same Germantown team that beat Vicksburg 10-6 the week before in the Red Carpet Bowl.

Vicksburg crushed Canton 45-0 last season, but McDaniel said the Tigers are not a team to take lightly.

“They’re 1-1 and have a really good coaching staff. They’re big and strong and athletic. This is no pushover,” McDaniel said. “We have to go out and grind this thing out and get a win.”

The Gators also need to clean up a lot of uneven play on their own end. Although they had a chance to win each of their first two games in the final minute, a string of mistakes on both sides of the ball stood out as obvious turning points in both outings.

Vicksburg committed three turnovers and had a punt blocked in a 10-6 loss to Germantown, long before a potential go-ahead touchdown pass was broken up in the end zone with a minute left.

A missed tackle allowed Warren Central to score on a 50-yard pass and two defensive penalties on the Vikings’ last drive led to a field goal that turned out to be the difference in a 20-18 loss last week.

Other, smaller mistakes such as dropped passes or missed blocks have kept the offense from living up to its potential so far. The Gators averaged nearly 300 rushing yards per game in 2021. In the first two games of 2022, they’ve gained 388 yards total.

“A lot of miscues. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot on Friday with some mistakes as far as jumping offsides and stalling out drives. Also, we missed some key blocks on three or four plays that I wish we would’ve had back that could have been big plays for us,” McDaniel said. “We’re not going to cry about it. We’re just going to move on and get ready for Canton.”

Two things that might help the Gators turn the corner are finally playing at home, and hitting a softer part of the schedule.

While McDaniel certainly didn’t dismiss Canton’s skill, it is the first of five consecutive opponents that had a losing record in 2021.

Germantown and Warren Central are both 2-0 and appear to be Class 6A playoff contenders.

“If you go and look at every 5A schedule, I bet our schedule is probably one of the toughest in the state. We didn’t lose to any bad football teams. We lost to two good 6A football teams,” McDaniel said. “I like where we’re at. We just need for us to stick together, and for everybody in the community to stick together and understand this is just the beginning and not the end.”

Returning home, meanwhile, will be a nice change of pace after playing the first two games across town at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium.

Even though the Gators had plenty of fan support in both and it was a short drive, McDaniel said not having to make the effort to pack up players and equipment and get on a bus makes a big difference on game day.

Five of Vicksburg’s eight region games are at Memorial Stadium.

“It does help being in the confines of your own home, being on your own field, being able to be in your own locker room and not having to get on that bus and travel,” McDaniel said. “It helps being in your own fieldhouse to warm up and not having to drive an hour, or 10 or five minutes across the street to go play a football game.”

Games starting at 7 p.m.
St. Aloysius at Brookhaven Academy (Radio: 101.3 FM)
Manchester at Tallulah Academy
Prentiss Christian at Sharkey-Issaquena
Silliman at Central Hinds
Northeast at Madison Parish
Games starting at 7:30 p.m.
Canton at Vicksburg (Radio: 107.7 FM)
Warren Central at Germantown (Radio: 105.5 FM)
Port Gibson at Hazlehurst

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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