By Travis Smola
With a trip to the District Final on the line, Vicksburg’s defense needed one last late stop to seal a playoff win on its most physical game of the year on the road against Marshall.
Bulldog fans were finally able to exhale and celebrate when linebacker Seth Benson swatted away a last-ditch 4th and 10 Redhawks pass with about 40 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 16-8 victory.
“The veteran leadership showed,” head coach Tom Marchese said.
Vicksburg set the tone early when they stopped the Redhawks on downs on a drive that got as deep as the Bulldog nine yard line. Marshall’s equally-strong defense resulted in the first quarter being a scoreless stalemate.
The defensive strength of Marshall was not lost on Vicksburg’s head coach.
“Number 33 (Chris Upright) might be the best linebacker we’ve seen all year,” Marchese said.
Just under two minutes into the second quarter, junior quarterback Brenden Lovell hit junior receiver Deondre Lovell in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown. The two-point attempt was no good and the Bulldog lead stayed at 6-0 until the third quarter.
Senior Miguel Garrido hit an 18-yard field goal only minutes into the third quarter to extend Vicksburg’s lead to 9-0. On Marshall’s ensuing possession, Redhawk running back Forrest Jackson broke a run from 41 yards out and appeared to score a touchdown, but the play was called back on a penalty. Three plays later, junior defensive back Blake Rankin ended the Marshall drive with a diving interception on the sideline.
Vicksburg turned the interception into points when Brenden Lovell took the ball on a quarterback keeper from six yards out. Diving along the left sideline, he was able to reach out and just barely get the ball over the pylon for the touchdown. Freshman Joe Brady tacked on the extra point to make it 16-0 with 7:30 left in the game.
After being held scoreless most of the game, Marshall decided they weren’t going down without a fight. The Redhawks responded with an eighteen play scoring drive capped off by a two-yard Chris Upright run with 2:27 left in the game.
Marshall quickly got the ball back and drove into Bulldog territory again before they stalled and Benson’s swatted ball ended the game.
The Bulldog’s two top performers were undeniable. Senior running back Nick Wallace carried the ball 19 times for 74 hard-earned yards. His later runs helped Vicksburg drain the clock. “He’s a very durable back,” Marchese said. “You know sooner or later he’s going to break one.”
Rankin was also a key impact player as he flew all over the field all day long. He had some key receptions, but his 13 tackles were his biggest contribution.
Trace Puckett also stepped up with some big stops on the line and Tanner Mendham had some key pass defenses.
“I think our defense stepped up to the occasion,” Marchese said.
The Bulldogs (8-2) will now travel to Coldwater (10-0) next week for a District Final showdown.