Gators get on the bus to face Columbus

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Vicksburg Gators were already facing a hard road to the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs. Now it’s a long road as well.

Vicksburg will travel to Columbus on Friday night. The 3 1/2-hour trip — the longest the Gators have had to take since going to West Point in the 2021 playoffs — will throw an extra wrinkle into an elimination game for both teams in the Region 2-6A playoff race.

“I think it’s just been our seniors that have been on that trip. You don’t want that distraction for the younger guys. Trying to counteract that is what’s the challenge,” Vicksburg head coach Christopher Lacey said. “It’s trying not to let our kids think they’re going on a field trip for school or something like that. We’re going on a business trip.”

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Both Vicksburg (5-3, 1-2 Region 2-6A) and Columbus (1-8, 0-3) have become keenly aware this season of the razor-thin margin between success and failure in Region 2-6A.

Vicksburg’s three region games have been decided by a total of four points, while Columbus’ last two were by one point each. Both teams also played two one-score games during the non-region schedule.

So while Columbus is currently in last place in the six-team region, Lacey said it is not an opponent to take lightly.

“Looking at the film, they’ve got some good players and size. They remind me of us, where a mistake here or a mistake there could’ve put them in position to beat a lot of people. They went toe-to-toe with Louisville for a while,” Lacey said. “You’ve got to keep that in mind that they might not be that average bottom team in the division.”

The arcs of Vicksburg and Columbus have followed a larger pattern in Region 2-6A. Of the combined nine league games so far, five were decided by either one or two points. All six teams have played at least one such game.
Lacey said that was a positive, provided it has a payoff at the end.

“There are no gimmes in the region. The team that does the football stuff right, and plays more disciplined football, is going to be the one that comes out on top,” he said. “That’s the kind of region you want to be in, where you get those competitive games. If you make it to the playoffs, you’ll be prepared for them.”

Making the playoffs is the big “if” in that sentence for the Gators. They’re currently in fourth place and in position to grab the final playoff berth from Region 2-6A, but need to win this Friday and next week against Ridgeland to fully secure it.

“Every week from here on out is a playoff game for us,” Lacey said. “We all need to treat every game like it’s a playoff game. That’s the mentality we’re going through right now. It’s one and done for us if we don’t get it together.”

Unlike last year, when the Gators rolled to 10 consecutive victories, won the region championship and reached the Class 5A semifinals, this season has been a rollercoaster.

A four-game winning streak included two come-from-behind victories, and was followed by two losses to start region play. The Gators beat Callaway 18-16 last week to keep their playoff hopes alive, but only had 175 yards of total offense and did not score a touchdown after the first quarter.

Defense and special teams carried them to the victory, but Lacey said they need a more even approach to get to the postseason and advance.

“It’s something we preach in the fieldhouse — we can’t try to win these games ugly because ugly will turn uglier for us,” Lacey said. “We’re trying to put it in their minds where you can’t take anybody lightly and you have to do all the football stuff right for us to be successful. I think they’re starting to understand that.”

All games start at 7 p.m.
Vicksburg at Columbus (Radio: 107.7 FM)
Warren Central at Callaway (Radio: 105.5 FM)
Tensas Academy at Tallulah Academy
Port Gibson at South Pike
Madison Parish at Vidalia

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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