The challenges Union Pines football coach Ryan Riggan faces entering his eighth season are a far cry from when he first started with the Vikings.
Long the doormat of Sandhills-area 3A teams, Union Pines has raised its program profile with back-to-back 6-6 seasons and competitive first-round playoff losses. The Vikings nearly upset Cleveland before falling 37-31 in last year’s 3AA postseason and had played Corinth Holders tough the year before in a 29-13 loss.
Instead of worrying about finding enough players, Riggan has more than 100 in the program, including some top athletes. Defensive end Taijh Alston is committed to East Carolina and quarterback Ben Bowbliss (1,562 yards passing, 1,170 rushing) gives opposing teams headaches.
What’s led to the turnaround at Union Pines?
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Patience helps. Riggan had just 10 wins after his first four seasons, including three straight 2-9 campaigns. But the Vikings stuck with him and vice versa. He’s implemented a full culture change that starts in the weight room and permeates the rural Moore County community.
“Getting everybody out to play was one of the things we ran into at first,” Riggan said.
What should be a team strength? Concern?
The defensive line is in good shape with Alston getting the headlines and double teams and teammates Charles Kelly and Isaiah Cheatham flying under the radar and to the quarterback. Replacing four defensive back starters is a daunting task.
What’s the next step?
Union Pines has closed the gap, and now it’s about winning games it “shouldn’t” and getting some signature upset wins.
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Last year: 6-6 (2-4 Cape Fear Valley 3A), first round 3AA playoffs
Five year average: 4-7 (1-5)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Coaches: Ryan Riggan (Head coach/QBs), Greg Mayer (OC/OL), Greg Simmons (DC), Nick Boney (WRs), Matt Purser (OL), Jason Kennedy (DL), Mark Trueblood (OLBs), Dylan Thomas (ILBs), Joe Robinson (DBs)
Contributors: Ben Bowbliss (Sr., QB), Kalon Greene (Sr., RB), Justin Everhart (Jr., RB), Brayden Giesler (Sr., WR), Brandon DeLoatch (Jr., WR), Jamesian Hairr (Sr., OL), Taijh Alston (Sr., DL), Isaiah Cheatham (Sr., DL), Charles Kelly (Sr., DL)
The main number: 1997-98 – the last time the Vikings won this many games in a two-year span was under coach Jim Hicks, winning 14 games from 1997-98.
Aug. 19 at East Montgomery 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. North Moore, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 vs. Providence Grove, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 at Jordan-Matthews, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 16 at Western Harnett, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 23* at Gray’s Creek, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30 BYE
Oct. 7* vs. Terry Sanford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* at Douglas Byrd, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. Lee County, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* vs. Southern Lee, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Westover, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game.