Underdog Natchez beats Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A full moon over Tom F. Williams Stadium become quite ominous in the second half, but the way things were going for Vicksburg it had to have been more than that.

It was a full moon on a Friday the 13th after a morning of breaking 13 mirrors.

Nothing could really go right for the 19th-ranked Gators Friday night against Natchez, and the Bulldogs minimized their mistakes, tightened up offensively and pulled a shocking 14-12 win Friday night. The win ended the Bulldogs’ 13-game losing streak and was their second win in their last 24 games.

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And it was the first home win for head coach James Denson and his staff.

&uot;We just came together, practiced

hard this week and said we were going to play four quarters of football,&uot; Natchez senior defensive lineman Anthony Strauder said. &uot;We just stuck together at the end. Everybody is ecstatic, but myself, I’m not shocked. I knew we could do this all along. I’m hoping this win is contagious because Natchez isn’t nothing but a sleeping giant.&uot;

As things continued to not go the Gators’ way as the game went on, the Bulldogs didn’t crack and played perhaps their most complete game in quite some time. They won the turnover battle (2-1), blocked well up front on offense (1 QB sack surrendered) and tackled well at critical times to keep the Gators from taking the lead late.

&uot;I thought we played better than we’ve been playing in the past,&uot; Denson said. &uot;In the last two ball games we’ve played we’ve had a fairly decent effort, but in the first ball game we beat ourselves. The second ball game we made errors early in the ball game, they capitalized on it and got out to a big lead, and our kids sort of quit. Tonight it was more or less a solid effort.&uot;

But to give you an indication of how eerie things were for the Gators, someone must have set up a ladder outside their locker room door for the entire team to run under. They drove to the Natchez 1 and fumbled. They were intercepted inside the 5. The kicker missed the point after following the first touchdown.

Then it was the double-whammy early in the fourth quarter: James Jackson hit a wide-open Arthur Hicks on what appeared to be a game-winning 57-yard touchdown pass. Officials, however, ruled Hicks stepped out of bounds shortly after the catch and wiped the entire play off for holding in the backfield.

&uot;You just can’t make mistakes,&uot; Vicksburg head coach Alonzo Stevens said. &uot;Natchez has a good ball team, and my hat’s off to Coach Denson. It was a heck of a job they did. We just made too many mistakes &045; too many. That’s the kind of thing that’s been haunting us all year. We just make them &045; make them at inopportune times.&uot;

It was some of those things that happened to the Gators on their last drive when they got it near midfield with 5:35 left. They dropped a pass on first down, had a holding penalty after getting to the NHS 40 and threw incomplete on fourth down at the NHS 46.

After the Bulldogs punted and put Vicksburg on its own 18, the Gators threw incomplete before a pass from Jackson to Maurice Taylor wasn’t close enough to the sideline for Taylor to get out of bounds before time ran out.

The Bulldogs were able to move the ball on offense well the entire game and had just one turnover, an interception late in the first half. But they ran for 100 yards with Riley Trask throwing for 156 yards, including two big touchdown passes to Keddrieck Gibbons to highlight the scoring.

&uot;The line held up,&uot; said Trask, who completed 6 of 15 pass attempts. &uot;We’ve been struggling a lot, but I felt we could get it. I was telling them to keep their heads up and try hard. Me and Coach Denson talked, and we made 15 turnovers in the last few games and 14 were mine. I watched the film to see what my downfall was, and I didn’t let anything come in between me and the game.&uot;

The Bulldogs had a 7-6 lead at halftime and struck on their first possession when Trask hit Gibbons on a 42-yard touchdown pass. Vickburg, however, answered right back when Maurice Taylor broke a 20-yard run for a score on fourth-and-10 situation, but Jackson’s pass on the two-point conversion was incomplete.

The Gators punted on their next drive and turned it over on downs on their next two drives.

&uot;Coach put in a few little wrinkles there&uot; on defense, Denson said. &uot;Early in the game our defensive tackles were going up the field, and we had one of them stay back and watch for the (QB) draw. The quarterback is a tremendous athlete, has a lot of versatility and is very shifty. He was beating us with that (draw) in the early part of the game.&uot;

Vicksburg didn’t need but just over a minute to get on the board after returning the opening kickoff down to the NHS 28. Four plays later Hicks ran it in from 3 yards out for a 6-0 lead.

Natchez, however, answered on its second drive when Trask hit Gibbons for a 60-yard touchdown pass with 5:26 left. Matthew Henderson’s kick on the point after was good for the 7-6 lead.