When Tarboro does what Tarboro does well, there isn’t much their opponent can do, even in the state finals.
The Vikings shook off an early miscue, and got to the basics, running its Tarboro-T to near perfection, defeating East Surry, 50-10 in the NCHSAA 1AA state title game at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was the second straight 1AA championship for the Vikings (15-0) and the sixth state championship in school history.
The Vikings rushed for 444 yards and only attempted one passes attempts, taking their season total up to 40. But why pass when the the running game averages 9.3 yards per carry. Five different players averaged at least four yards per carry, led by junior quarterback Kimani McDaniels, who finished with 105 yards on six carries and touchdowns. McDaniels was named the MVP of the 1AA state title game following his performance.
It was the second touchdown run of the night by McDaniels that broke the game open. Leading 14-10 at the half, the Vikings got the ball to start the third quarter. Tarboro picked six yards on their first two plays, setting up a third and four. McDaniels rolled out of the pocket on a designed quarterback run, and showed off the jets, rushing 65-yards for the score, putting the Vikings ahead 21-10 after the extra point.
After forcing a three and out by the Cardinals, Tarboro went on a six-play drive, capped off by a 1-yard Clifton Joyner touchdown, making it 29-10 after the successful two-point conversion from Jaquez Edge. The third quarter was the backbreaker for the Cardinals, who turned the ball over - interception by Kendarius Jenkins - and gave up 199 yards on the ground to the Vikings. Even when it appeared East Surry stopped Tarboro, the Vikings still found a way to find the endzone, ending the third quarter on a 40-yard touchdown run by Keon Caudle on a fake punt, the first of two touchdowns for the senior, who finished with 105 yards on the ground.
It was the first time this season head coach Jeff Craddock called a fake punt all season. He warned his team this week that the call might come and told them not to be surprised. When the “Purple” call came in from the sideline, Caudle, of course, was surprised.
“We always work on it in practice, and in the games we never run it,” Caudle said. “I was kind of shocked when he said ‘purple, purple, purple.’”
That score gave the Vikings a 36-10 lead heading into the fourth. The Cardinals offense went missing in action after some early success. After picking up 67-yards on its opening drive, East Surry only managed 38 yards total heading into the fourth.
Defensive MVP Malik Ward (8 tackles) could sense a turn in momentum in the third quarter.
“When we came back and our defense shut everything down, and our offense scored,” Ward said. “We kept pounding.”
Tarboro, meanwhile, only got stronger. After fumbling away the ball on their second play from scrimmage, which was scooped up and returned for a score by Cardinals’ linebacker Gunnar Jones, the Vikings scored on four consecutive drives. Tarboro scored on their opening drive of the fourth, a 4-yard run by edge, putting them ahead 43-10. The Vikings previous largest margin of victory in a title game was 25. They passed that margin on Joyner’s score in the third. Craddock said his team never rattled after falling behind for the first time this season.
“These guys didn’t blink,” Craddock said. “It’s a long ball game and we preach all the time don’t get caught up in the flow of the game, if something bad happens don’t get too low, something good happens don’t get too high, keep it even for four quarters.”
Playing in their first state title game, East Surry (11-4) didn’t back down on their opening drive, moving the ball down the field, running 18 plays to get into Tarboro territory. The Vikings didn’t do themselves any favors by committing four penalties on the drive, but kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard when a Derek Sutterby 31-yard attempt was wide right. East Surry scored on the scoop and score, and got a Sutterby 24-yard field goal before the half to make it 14-10 in favor of the Vikings.
The 40-point margin was the largest margin of victory for Tarboro in its six championship wins. The Vikings defense only gave up 55 points this season and kept the Cardinals’ offense out of the endzone for the first time this season.
“That team is pretty good offensively,” Craddock said. “To hold them to a field goal in four quarters, I know this defense was dominant. I’ll let these guys (players) argue between the classes, trust me it’ll be plenty of it, but I always tell them you can’t be in the argument if you don’t win the state championship.”