Vicksburg blanks Neshoba Central to win first region championship since 1990

Published 1:08 am Saturday, October 22, 2022

When the history of this era of Vicksburg High football is written, it might include the stories of some generational talents — which is fitting, since they pulled off a feat that hadn’t been done in a couple of generations.

Vicksburg’s defense stood tall all night long, Malik Montgomery and DeCorey Knight each scored a rushing touchdown, and the Gators beat Neshoba Central 14-0 to win the program’s first region championship since 1990.

“Our name is going to be on a banner somewhere. When we come back 30 years from now our name is still going to be on that banner,” defensive end Caleb Bryant said.

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Vicksburg (7-2, 7-0 MHSAA Region 2-5A) won its eighth consecutive home game dating back to last season, and could play all of its games there until heading to Hattiesburg for the Class 5A championship game, depending on how the bracket shakes out.

Vicksburg (7-2, 7-0 MHSAA Region 2-5A) won its eighth consecutive home game dating back to last season, and could play all of its games there until heading to Hattiesburg for the Class 5A championship game.

The Gators have a bye next week, finish the regular season at home vs. Holmes County Central on Nov. 4, and then would host a first-round game and a semifinal game in the playoffs. Its second-round matchup would also be at Memorial Stadium if the No. 2 seed from Region 1-5A wins its first-round game.

“We haven’t lost on our home field in a long time, and we ain’t fixing to start now,” Bryant said.

Neshoba Central (6-3, 6-1) won the Region 2-5A title the past three seasons and could have made it four with a win Friday. Its 16-game region winning streak was snapped, however, against a motivated opponent that any team would have found hard to beat.

Neshoba Central only managed 92 yards of total offense and had one snap in the red zone all game. A 9 1/2-minute drive in the first half only got as far as Vicksburg’s 19-yard line.

In the second half, the Rockets had three first downs and did not run a play in Vicksburg territory. They were shut out for the first time since Sept. 29, 2017 — coincidentally, also against Vicksburg.

Vicksburg posted its second shutout of the season, and has held six of its nine opponents to seven points or less.

“I told (defensive coordinator Christopher) Lacey, ‘I don’t think they’re going to score.’ We just have to come out and put together some drives and some points on the scoreboard and we will be district champs tonight,” Vicksburg head coach Todd McDaniel said. “Those guys have held their own all year. They’re one of the best defenses in the state of Mississippi.”

The Gators’ defense had to be that good, since Neshoba’s was also solid.

Vicksburg came away empty on two drives inside Neshoba’s 20-yard line and threw an interception on another possession that started near midfield.

The Gators, though, managed to break the stalemate twice with the help of several big plays.

Just before halftime, Johnny Smith Jr. got loose for a 46-yard run down to the Neshoba 18-yard line.

Three plays later, Montgomery went off the left side and bulled his way over a defender to get the last two yards on a 19-yard touchdown with 1:34 to go.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Knight ripped off a 47-yard run after a punt had pinned the Gators deep in their own end. It took them 14 more plays and six minutes to gain the next 41 yards. Knight finally capped it off with a sweep around the right side on fourth-and-goal for a 5-yard TD, and his two-point conversion run made it 14-0 with 1:13 left in the game.

Vicksburg finished with 229 rushing yards as a team. Knight had 82 on 12 carries, Montgomery gained 68 on 20 carries, and Smith had 80 yards on seven attempts.

“I always judge my offenses off of if you can put together drives and not have turnovers and make mistakes. We had some great drives tonight,” McDaniel said. “We’ve been having some great drives for the last four or five weeks. We are an offense, but we’re a defense also because when we can get those guys on the field fresh nobody can block them.”

After Knight’s touchdown, Neshoba Central’s last possession was a formality. The Gators doused McDaniel with the contents of the water cooler after the final horn and celebrated a moment three decades in the making.

It’s only Vicksburg’s fifth region championship in the playoff era that started in 1984. It also won titles in 1984, 1986 and 1990.

If the Gators can beat Holmes County Central in two weeks, they would also join the 1984 and 1990 teams as the only ones from VHS to finish undefeated in region play during the playoff era.

“We haven’t won a district championship in over 30 years, so for us to win this and come out here tonight and play hard we deserve this win right here,” Montgomery said. “We’re a very, very special group. We have some mistakes here and there, but when we play as a family we can’t be beat. That’s why we’re the best in 5A.”

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 139-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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