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To some, 36-35, is simply a score. To Vincent High football coach Lucas Weatherford, it’s more than that. Sure, it’s a score. More importantly, though, it’s a corner turned.
First things first. Vincent’s 36-35 victory over Luverne this past Friday night in a Class 2A first-round playoff game earned at least another week of football for the Yellow Jackets.
It’s also the identical score to a pair of heartbreaking losses by Vincent over the past 14 months. In the 2021 season, Vincent dropped a 36-35 Region 4 decision to Ranburne in early September. Ultimately, that was the difference in Ranburne advancing to the playoffs and Vincent staying home. Earlier this season, B.B. Comer erased a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to emerge with a 36-35 win over Vincent. Ultimately, that was the difference in B.B. Comer winning its first region title since 1995 and Vincent falling short of its first region title since 2006.
The irony of it wasn’t lost on Weatherford as he glanced at the scoreboard following what can best be described as an improbable win.
“I said Friday night, it’s great to finally be on the right side of that score,” Weatherford said. “We’re 1-2 in 36-35 games. Looking back, it kind of made this thing sweeter, you know.”
Even without the familiar score, Friday night’s win was a program-transforming victory. Vincent won a playoff game for the first time since beating Southern Choctaw, 29-28, in 2011. It was the program’s second playoff win since 2002, and marks the first time in school history that a Yellow Jacket team has won 10 games in a season.
“Luverne is a program that’s been in the playoffs, I think, since the Prohibition Era,” Weatherford joked. “I think it’s literally 40 years in a row. Their kids are used to being there until deep in November. Our kids are excited about it, but just weren’t quite sure how to handle it, I think. We had some issues last week, in terms of injuries and we had the flu bug going around. I think everybody is dealing with that right now. We had some adversity going into that game and Luverne is a big, physical football team.”
Put all that together and Vincent trailed 14-0 before everybody settled into their seats. Vincent clawed back to take a halftime lead but fell behind again in the second half. With four minutes left in the game, Luverne scored to take a 35-22 lead.
“I’m not going to lie, the thought in my mind was, ‘Well, this may be it,’” Weatherford said.
Those weren’t the words that came out of his mouth.
“You got to keep the kids’ spirits up,” Weatherford said. “We got in the huddle, still down 13, I looked at every one of them and told them, ‘Guys, we’re going to score right here, we’re going to go for two and get it, we are going to get the onside kick and go win the game.’”
“Man, if they didn’t go do just that,” Weatherford said.
Final score: @VHS_Athletics1 36, Luverne 35— Alec Etheredge SCR (@AlecEtheredgeSC) November 5, 2022
Vincent wins 10 games in a season for the first time ever and in unreal fashion. The Jackets are headed to the second round of the playoffs. What a sight. pic.twitter.com/VxS4myjrYe
Running a two-minute offense, the Yellow Jackets moved nearly 70 yards. Quarterback Blake Allums hit Zac Carlisle for a touchdown and found Aiden Poe for a two-point conversion to trim the deficit to 35-30 with two minutes remaining. After a successful onside kick, Vincent was in business again. They escaped a 4th-and-1 situation and scored on another pass from Allums to Carlisle to take the lead with 52 seconds left. Luverne couldn’t answer.
Now for a bit of a backstory.
Vincent is a fast-tempo team in its regular offense. They are not big, Weatherford said, so they have to be fast. So, the two-minute offense is nothing new. In practice the week before, though, he decided to do something extra with his quarterback, who he calls the “heart and soul” of this team, to help speed things up.
"Our quarterback, Blake Allums, this week, I just turned him loose in practice,” Weatherford said. “This was not even two-minute, this was regular team offense. I told him I was going to call a play, we’re going to run it, after that you call it and go as fast as we possibly can. Actually, those two-minute drives, he called just about every play on those two drives. We got a 4th-and-1 situation, I didn’t have time to send a play in, and he got the first down on that last drive. I think, us doing that, helped in that situation. We were kind of used to going fast.”
Weatherford said the significance of this win for the program, “kind of the defining moment, to where we know it’s kind of flipped.”
“To see them battle, in that type of game, and come back and win, I think was big,” Weatherford said. “It’s like, we’re supposed to do this, we’re supposed to be here, we’re one of those guys now. Which is what we’re trying to get those kids to believe in, that community to believe in.”
Weatherford has been working toward this moment since taking over the program in 2018. He took over a program kind of spinning its wheels with three coaches in a seven-year period.
“The culture wasn’t in good shape, it wasn’t the coaches’ fault, it was just ingrained in that place,” Weatherford said. “It was just kind of do what you want, show up when you want to. When things get hard, we’re going to quit and go somewhere else. It was not in the best shape culture-wise. They had some talent, now, but they just weren’t used to working, weren’t used to playing together.”
He didn’t plan to change things overnight.
“In the society we live in, everything is a microwave society, we want everything now,” Weatherford said. “We kind of had to take the slow cooker approach to get everything together. The seniors we had this year were eighth-graders that season. There is a kid that’s a junior, that was a seventh-grader on the team that season. We went to the playoffs that year. We kind of backed our way in, we didn’t deserve to be there. We won the tiebreaker. You got to start somewhere to get where you’re going. I think it’s important that those guys, they know, where they’ve been and where we’re at now. They’ve seen what we’ve accomplished.”
The next step comes this week at defending Class 2A champion Clarke County. A win would extend the school record for wins in a season and mark the first time the Yellow Jackets made it past the second round of the playoffs.
“Our kids are excited. I’m hoping we aren’t just happy to be there; let’s go down there and try to win,” Weatherford said.
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