of last year’s game.
This time last year, Vardaman cruised into Class 1A state semifinal game against Durant undefeated after three big wins in the playoffs. The unsuspecting Rams were ambushed early and never recovered, losing to the Tigers 40-0.
Durant went on to win the state championship.
This time around, Durant (13-0) is the one that comes into Friday’s 7:30 p.m., Class 1A semifinal game at Vardaman (12-1) undefeated. Yet, the Tigers are no less dangerous, and don’t think Rams’ coach Mark Bray isn’t aware of that.
“We have got to start off better than we did last year,” Bray said. “They jumped on us quick last year with the option and we had a turnover early and we really never recovered.”
Durant led that contest 21-0 in the first quarter and Vardaman was never in the game after that.
The source of most of Vardaman’s problems – quarterback Jermaine Winters – is back. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior has been victimizing defenses all season and has more than 1,500 yards rushing and 1,200 yards passing to lead the option-oriented attack to more than 40 points a game.
“(Winters) is exceptional,” Bray said. “He really hurt us with the option last year and that is the one thing we have got to turn around”
It may help that in Vardaman’s three playoffs victories this year – against Weir and Calhoun City – all have come to option-oriented teams.
“We have seen the option plenty this time around,” Bray said. “It’s just a matter of being able to stop Durant’s attack.”
Despite all of the accolades laid at the feet of the talented Tigers, Durant coach Danny Robertson calls this season a rebuilding project.
However, ask teams like Montgomery County, Greenville St. Joseph and Sturgis – all teams Durant scored more than 60 points against – and they likely wouldn’t call Durant’s 2001 season a rebuilding project.
“I really believe this group is a bunch of overachievers,” Robertson said. “We lost the core of the team that won the state championship a year ago and a lot of people didn’t expect a lot of this team.”
Roberston and his “rebuilding Tigers” know, however, that playing against Vardaman this time will be a different animal all together. And playing Vardaman is no new thing for either team.
The two have played each other three times in the playoffs the last six years and two other times prior to that.
“The one thing you know any time you play Vardaman is that they come to play,” Robertson said. “They are extremely aggressive, physical and a great football team. And on defense, they fly around and really stroke you.
“You really have to tighten your chin strap when you play these guys.”
One thing in Vardaman’s favor is that running back Greg Horton is expected to play and be 100 percent against Durant. The junior, who has rushed for 1,766 yards and 26 touchdowns, has been hampered by an injury the last two weeks.
Sophomore quarterback Bryan West (6-1, 190) keeps the chains moving for the Rams as well having completed 53 of 105 passes for 1,073 yards and eight touchdowns.
For Durant, Winters isn’t the Tigers’ only threat. Junior running back Tony Wash (5-10, 160) has rushed for more than 1,300 yards and has 21 touchdowns to his credit.
Wash and Winters are also protected by a large and veteran offensive line, anchored by seniors R.L. Myrick (6-3, 250) and Derrick Huntley (6-0, 240) and junior Joseph Humphrey (6-2, 270).
Tickets for the game are $7 at the gate and $5 in advance. For more information, call 682-7574.