The preseason promise Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock makes to his football players is to hang a billboard-sized team photo on a school wall if the Vikings advance to the state finals.
The only question remaining is if the photo the veteran football coach is committed to hang will be labeled state champions or state runner-up.
Tarboro (14-0) defeated Edenton Holmes 50-7 on Friday night at Viking Stadium to earn a state final berth by winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1AA East Region title. The Vikings face Mount Airy (14-0), the West champion, at 4 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the state final at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. It was only the second loss of the season for Holmes (12-2).
“This means a lot to us,” running back Deontae Williams said. “It’s good to get back to the state finals. We’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Tarboro is back in the finals for the first time since a 2012 runner-up finish. Powered by current NFL star Todd Gurley, the Vikings won three straight 2A titles from 2009-2011.
Williams was the leading scorer with three touchdown runs and Clifton Joyner the leading rusher with 162 yards and two scores as Tarboro punished the Aces on the ground. The Vikings finished with 36 carries for 336 yards.
Joyner carried only nine times for his big night with breakaway runs of 45 and 50 yards. His two TDs were the 45-yarder for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and a 1-yard run for a 28-0 advantage shortly before halftime.
Williams finished with 15 carries for 88 yards. He scored on runs of 8, 1 and 6 yards, respectively
Fullback Jaquez Edge scored the Vikings’ other rushing touchdown on an 8-yard run for a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. A week ago Edge was the leading rusher with 176 yards against West Montgomery. But with the defense loading up for the fullback runs, Tarboro quarterback Tae Randolph deftly split the ball between Williams and Joyner as halfbacks in the Wing-T offense.
“Our offensive line does a great job,” Edge said. “They were trying to stop me, but they didn’t know where the ball was going most of the time.”
Tarboro’s other touchdown was a 21-yard fumble return by defensive end Ja’viyes Massenburg. On an option pitch to the right, Massenburg read the play quickly enough to tip the pitch. It bounced on the ground into his arms on a full sprint to the end zone.
The final 9:14 of the game was played with a running clock after Tarboro opened a 43-point lead.
Tarboro’s state title history is well-documented with signs outside the stadium noting the 2A state titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and a 1984 3A state title. It’s intimidating for opponents. It could be overwhelming for some kids to live up to expectations, but that’s not the Tarboro way.
“The expectations have been set a long time ago,” Craddock said. “The coaches, the players, trainers – everyone – all know that the goal is to be state champions. Our kids thrive on it. They work hard every day in the offseason. They want to be a part of it. They want to have their pictures on the wall by the weight room. They’re always telling me, ‘Coach, you’re going to put our picture on that wall.’ I tell them I’ll find room for it. This is what they live for.”