The Tarboro Vikings are playing for their fifth consecutive trip to the NCHSAA 2-A state championship game tonight when they host the South Columbus Stallions in the Eastern Regional finals. The Vikings have won four consecutive regional finals.
This is the second straight year that the two teams have met in the regional finals, because last year Tarboro defeated South Columbus 13-10 to advance to the championship game where the Vikings won their third straight title.
This year is no different for Tarboro and their head coach Jeff Craddock. He knows that the Stallions lost most of their seniors from last years team, but they have regrouped with an energized group of sophomores.
"Our expectations are to play the best game that we can," Craddock said. "They gave us everything we wanted last year and we were good enough to come out on top and win."
The final drive of the game was led by now Georgia Bulldog standout Todd Gurley, who played hurt the entire game, but was strong enough to come in and score the winning touchdown to send the Vikings to the title game.
This year is different for several reasons, one, Gurley isn't playing for Tarboro and two, the Vikings have a solid group of running backs they can go to and depend on to make the big plays for them.
When the Vikings began making their run to the state championship games back in 2009 Craddock has told his team they are on a five week journey and if they want to be successful then they have to complete the journey.
Tarboro is en route to completing their fifth five week journey, but Craddock said they are almost there. Not there yet, but almost. They are on step four of the journey.
"The key word is almost and we still have plenty of work to do before we complete the journey," Craddock said. "We have a few more steps before it is completed but we have to focus on South Columbus first because if we don't get by them then we can't complete the journey."
Tarboro's goal wasn't to make it to just the Eastern finals or the playoffs, it was to win another state title.
"We have been blessed to have success here at Tarboro," Craddock said. "It is an honor to be here again."
Last week the Vikings put on a show for their fans by beating Northeastern 52-24 in what was a great showing by the Vikings on both sides of the ball. Tarboro gained 511 yards on offense and held Northeastern to just 309 yards.
Craddock knows that the Stallions will come out and be physical and that they have fast and athletic players who Tarboro will have to shut down. One of the main factors for the Stallions is their 6 foot 7 inch quarterback Pharoah McKever. With his height he can see over defenses and most of the time pick them apart with his passing ability through the slots.
"We have to stop the big plays," Craddock said. "We can't give up the long passes. We have to come out and play hard and maintain our composure. We have to come in and stay focused at all times."
South Columbus presents different challenges then the three teams the Vikings have defeated in the playoffs this year. The Stallions present a fast group of players.
The game plan has stayed the same throughout the playoffs for the Vikings. The can't give up the big plays and have to contain the opposing teams offense and try to keep them off the field.
Craddock has worked on the special teams this week ,because last week they put the Vikings defense in tough situations with horrible starting field position and forced the defense to put their backs against the wall and pressured them to stop Northeastern. Craddock has made the proper adjustments to the special teams this week in hopes of not giving up a massive amount of yards on kickoff or punt returns.
"Our special teams weren't that great last week," Craddock said. "This time of the year teams have to keep playing better and better because their opponents get tougher each week."
Craddock was pleased with his teams offensive performance last week. Radja Bobbitt had an impressive first half before he went down late in the second quarter. He rushed for 181 yards on just five carries and scored twice before being sidelined for precautionary reasons.
Senior Quentin Roberson picked up the slack and gained 206 yards on just 15 carries and scored three touchdowns to help with the route.
Tarboro's offense has been clicking on all cylinders this season. They are averaging over 40 points per game, which helps put pressure on opposing teams and forces them to score on almost every possession.
Roberson leads all Viking ball carriers this year with 1,484 yards rushing on 145 touches and has scored 22 TDs. Bobbitt has broke the 1,000 yard mark as well and has gained 1,373 yards on 161 carries. He has scored 18 TDs, while Travonne Marshall is third on the chart with 774 yards on 104 carries and has scored 15 times.
Craddock has several concerns with the Stallions. He knows they have players on the perimeter who are fast and that even though they are a young team they play hard for their coach. Another concern is the yards after catch with the Stallions’ receivers and then their fullback is a big concern because he carries the load over 70 percent of the time.
"They are just a really sound and fundamental team," Craddock said. "They have good athletes all over the field who present problems. They are just a well coached team."