Tarboro Vikings head coach Jeff Craddock and his coaching staff have led their Vikings to their fifth consecutive NCHSAA 2-A state championship game. They will travel to Winston-Salem on Saturday and play the East Lincoln Mustangs at BB&T Field on the campus of Wake Forest University at 11 a.m.
Over the past five years the coaching staff and players have become one big family. They have poured their hearts and souls into the program and have worked extremely hard to get to where they are now, which is at the top of the 2-A class.
"The players and coaches work hard everyday to make us who we are," Craddock said. "Everything starts in January when the returners get into the weight room and start lifting and begin to set goals for their upcoming season."
It means a lot to Craddock and his Vikings program to make it back to their fifth straight title game. He never hesitates to commend his coaching staff, because he always says without them there would be no Tarboro football.
"Our goal is to win the state championship," Craddock said. "It has been our goal from the beginning so we have to play our best game and our purpose is to go and play the best we can."
Saturday's task is nothing new for the Vikings and their coaching staff. They are riding a 19 game playoff winning streak and have won 22 games in a row. Since the Vikings run began in 2008 with their first appearance in the state championship game, their overall record sits at 72-5 heading into Saturday's game in the five year span.
For the Vikings to keep the title in Tarboro, they seem to have their work cut out for them according to the stats provided by the East Lincoln coaching staff.
East Lincoln runs a spread offense and likes to throw the football quite a bit, but the offense is very similar to that of the Vikings previous five opponents. The Mustangs are averaging around 47 points per game and are holding their opponents to just over 16 points per game.
Mustangs senior quarterback Garrett Young has thrown for 3,407 yards, which is a school record. He has thrown 41 touchdowns and has only thrown five interceptions. His main go to guy is Jesse Earnhardt who has caught 66 passes for 1,244 yards and has caught 13 TD passes. The Mustangs also have a guy that is a 6 foot, 180 pound freshman, Chaz Surratt. He has caught 9 touchdown passes and has gained 965 yards. He has 50 receptions. The third receiver who has impressive numbers is third in stats, Tyler Brock. He has caught 44 passes and has scored 13 times. He has 816 yards receiving.
Tarboro's goal is to slow down the Mustang's passing attack with different coverages and looks. They can't let Young get comfortable in the pocket and they will put lots of pressure on him with different looks on blitz packages.
For the Vikings to be successful they are going to have to play stellar defense just like they have the last four weeks in the playoffs. Teams thought they could come in and throw on Tarboro, but they have shut down opposing passing teams.
"We have worked on shutting down our opponents from making the big plays and connecting on the long ball," Craddock said. "We can give up the five yard outs but not the long passes."
One of the concerns Craddock has is the size of the Mustangs linemen. They are big upfront and Tarboro is going to have to control that part of the game. East Lincoln has a couple of players weighting in at over 300 pounds.
Another concern that the coaching staff has is turning the ball over, because the Mustangs like to try an strip the ball from ball carriers.
"We can't turn the ball over," Craddock said. "They have destroyed teams with turnovers and they do a great job of wrapping up during a tackle then they try to strip the ball. Every film we have watched on them they have forced their opponents to turn the ball over four or five times a game."
Then when the Mustangs get the ball back they connect on the big plays. They have done that to almost all of their opponents and for the Vikings to be successful they are going to have to stick to their game plan and execute it to perfection.
What the Vikings do have is a stellar defense that has caused problems for all of their opponents. Tarboro linebacker Travonne Marshall has been a thorn in opposing teams sides this season and has stepped up his game as of late. He has three interceptions in the last three games and is leading the Vikings in tackles with over 110.
Another player who has played well as of late is the Vikings five star defensive end Tyquan Lewis. He has stepped up his game and has recorded multiple sacks in the past four games. The Ohio State commit knows what it takes to win the championship and bring it back to Tarboro, because he has been a part of all three championship teams.
A key for the Vikings, which may be a big advantage, is their speed on the offensive side of the football. The running backs can get in the open field and break way on long runs.
They have four dangerous weapons who can hurt any team at any given time. Quarterback Aaron Moore, both running backs, Quentin Roberson and Radja Bobbitt and fullback Marshall all have over 600 yards rushing this year and all have scored at least eight touchdowns this season.
Roberson is the leader in yards with 1,729. He has scored 25 TDs on just 161 carries, while Bobbitt has gained 1,441 yards on 177 carries and has scored 20 TDs.
Marshall has been the spark plug for both Roberson and Bobbitt this year. He has been one of the best lead blockers that has been through the program in quite some time. He has gained over 800 yards this season and has scored 16 TDs.
Moore has not been a threat as of late, but early on in the season he was instrumental in the Vikings ground attack. Moore has gained over 600 yards on the ground and has throw for over 300 yards. He has been a part of 12 TDs by way of running or throwing.