Four Down Territory: McDaniel celebrates with the Gators again; WC’s Evans and PCA’s Massey achieve rare feats

Published 3:45 pm Sunday, November 5, 2023

You’re in Four Down Territory, where we look at four notes, nuggets, stats and trends from the week that was in Mississippi high school football, college football and the NFL.

Todd McDaniel celebrated 21 victories over three seasons as head coach of the Vicksburg Gators.

No. 22 was quite an odd sight, considering it came at the expense of his current team.

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McDaniel left Vicksburg High in March to take over as Ridgeland’s head coach. After his former team defeated his current one 20-7 on Thursday to clinch a berth in the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs — and eliminate the Titans from contention — McDaniel was hardly bitter after the game.

McDaniel laughed alongside the Gators, shared plenty of hugs, and even threw up two fingers in a “V” salute, for both Vicksburg and victory while Ridgeland’s players patiently waited nearby in the postgame huddle.

McDaniel said it was simply a show of love and pride for the players he coached from 2020-22. This year’s seniors were freshmen during McDaniel’s first season, and a number of them started that year.

Vicksburg (7-3) will go on the road to play Grenada (8-3) in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 10.

“The love I have for those guys … I walked out on the field before the game and teared up,” said McDaniel, who had a 21-16 record with Vicksburg and led them to the Class 5A semifinals in 2022. “When you get a group of guys like that, that did everything you asked them to do, you can’t do nothing but love them. And the love is reciprocated. I wish nothing but the best for them.”

Vicksburg’s current head coach, Christopher Lacey, was McDaniel’s defensive coordinator the past three seasons. The two chatted and posed for photos after the game, and are friends. Still, Lacey said the competitive nature of both men was on full display.

“It was cool to see Coach. Me and him talk all the time,” Lacey said. “It was a crazy moment when we came back out at halftime. I was on that sideline and he was on this sideline and we were just staring at each other. I know we wanted to beat each other.”

McDaniel agreed. Although he shared in Vicksburg’s victory, he grinned as he planned for a different outcome in next year’s match-up in Ridgeland.

“I’m proud of those guys. Those guys are awesome kids and the coaching staff is an awesome coaching staff. I left it in good hands. Coach Lacey is going to do a tremendous job with those young men,” McDaniel said. “But I can’t wait ‘till next year.”

Zack Evans did something Warren Central had only done once in the last 10 seasons — and then he did it again.
Evans returned two punts for touchdowns in a 41-6 rout of Columbus on Thursday. His 55-yard return in the second quarter marked the first time a Warren Central player had returned a punt for a touchdown since Shaun Walton did it against Greenville on Sept. 30, 2016.

Evans also had a 52-yard touchdown return in the third quarter.

Not including fair catches and kicks that were downed, Warren Central had returned 117 punts in 89 games since Walton’s touchdown. They did score on a blocked punt in 2017, as well as one in 2015, but not a traditional return.

The Vikings did not have a touchdown return during the 2014 or 2015 seasons, either. Stats before 2014 were not available.

Porter’s Chapel Academy quarterback John Wyatt Massey continued to rocket up a number of lists in Warren County’s football record book with another outstanding performance Friday.

Massey completed 13 of 16 passes for 304 yards and seven touchdowns in a 53-18 win over Deer Creek in the second round of the MAIS Class 2A playoffs. He became the first quarterback in county history to ever throw that many touchdown passes in a game, breaking a record he shared with Vicksburg High’s Cameron Cooksey and Temple’s William Wooley. It was the first 300-yard passing game by a Warren County quarterback since 2018.

Massey had six touchdowns earlier this season against Wilkinson County Christian.

Massey also passed Cooksey’s single-season record for TD passes. Massey’s big night gave him 40 for the season, and Cooksey had 38 in 2011.

Massey reached another milestone by becoming only the fourth Warren County player to throw at least 50 career touchdown passes. He had 12 last season and now has 52 in his career.

Cooksey holds the record, with 62. Vicksburg’s Joseph Johnson had 56 from 2014-17, and Ernest Moore had 50 for North Vicksburg and Vicksburg High from 1971-73.

Massey still has at least one game, and possibly two, left this season. The Eagles (12-0) will play at DeSoto School (11-0) in the Class 2A semifinals on Nov. 10. The Class 2A championship game is Nov. 17 in Jackson.

“It’s great, but sometimes the receivers make plays and make you look good. It isn’t all about you with these records,” Massey said after Friday’s win over Deer Creek.

Ole Miss improved its record to 8-1 with a 38-35 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday, but getting there has not been easy. Four of the Rebels’ last five games have been decided by one possession, and two of those came down to the last play.

Ole Miss let a 21-0 lead slip away against the Aggies (5-4), then pulled it out in the end. Quinshon Judkins scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run with 4:34 left, and then Zxavian Harris tipped a potential tying field goal as time expired. The 47-yard kick fell short to preserve Ole Miss’ victory.

“They’re like the cardiac kids or something the way our kids play and take it down to the wire in these games,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “What an exciting finish to a game. Kind of somewhat of an LSU feel where it seemed like we were in command and then let it slip away there. To get it back at the end there, go down and score on a 75-yard drive and then block the kick at the end, I’ve got to give our players a lot of credit.”

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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