Records aside, plenty in common for Tarboro, Mount Airy

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Tarboro's Devonta Davis, right, stiff arms Edenton Holmes' Jackson Ray during a punt return Friday in the NCHSAA 1-AA East Regional final at Tarboro High School.


Sports Writer

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

RALEIGH — The wins, the blowouts, the talent and the recent history is all there for both teams.

Tarboro (14-0) and Mount Airy (14-0), set to face off this Saturday at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium for the 1-AA state championship, have both had dominant seasons.

The Vikings, who beat Edenton Holmes, 50-7, last Friday to advance to the state title game, have yet to be challenged this season, a 28-0 victory in mid-September by far their closest margin of victory.

The Granite Bears, similarly lacking competition within their own conference, went one five-game stretch earlier this year with a combined 282 to 13 margin of victory. The toughest test came last week, when Mount Airy beat Murphy, 49-35, to set up this matchup.

But aside from a few parallels in each team’s 2017 narrative, there is a certain likeness between these two towns.

To start with: the size. Tarboro and Mount Airy combined -- each town’s population is around 10,000 -- could fit in Carter-Finley Stadium with about 37,000 seats to spare.

At the State Football Championships Press Conference and Information Session on Monday morning in Raleigh, both head coaches agreed: In both of their towns, there’s a community that is in-tune with its football team.

“The biggest two things about us really, is that our two communities both love their teams and support them well,” Mount Airy coach Kelly Holder said. “I can just say at Mount Airy, you can go back in our history of 70-something years, and I think we’re third all-time in total wins. It’s just been a big part of our community for a long time.”

The Granite Bears fell a game short of this position a season ago. Its most recent state title came in 2008. Holder, in his 19th season, also reached the final in 2009, losing a 38-37 final in overtime to Wallace-Rose Hill. The excitement since Friday in the little town about 40 miles from Winston-Salem, said the coach, has been palpable.

“They expect us to be competitive,” Holder continued. “They support us. It’s important to them and it’s important to us.”

More than 211 miles to the east, in Tarboro, the same type of town-team relationship rings true.

“You’ve got two small towns, football-rich towns with a lot of tradition,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “Both know how to win big games and have won state titles in the past.”

The Vikings are making their seventh trip to the state title game since 1972, six of which have come since 2008.

The Vikings, of course, enjoyed three straight title victories from 2009-11. The most recent appearance came in 2012, but they’ve reached at least the third round of the playoffs for the last 10 seasons.

“I would imagine from Mount Airy’s point of view, much like Tarboro, we’re the pride of town. It’s Tarboro football. It brings our community together. It goes beyond what race or what area of town you’re from,” Craddock said. “On Friday night, it’s time for Tarboro football. The town comes together. This is what a lot of fans in Tarboro live for — Tarboro football and a chance to win a championship.”

Bear-ly one-dimensional

On offense, Mount Airy is led by a trio of players — quarterback Ian Holder (Kelly’s son), running back Johnathon Smith and wide receiver Donovan Greene, a 6-foot-2 junior who has offers from several NCAA Division I schools.

Holder, who was a slot receiver last season, has 1,882 yards passing to go with 1,056 on the ground, while Smith leads the team with 1,477 rushing yards, but the amount of pressure that Greene puts on the defense sets the flow of the offense.

“The first thing you’re going to have to do is decide if you’re going to double him or not,” Holder said. “It just really goes from there.”

Against the Vikings, the challenge for the Granite Bears is simply game planning for all of them. The amount of talent and athleticism on a 1-AA school is just not normal, Holder said.

“If you’re talking about individual athletes, we’ve got some kids that can run with them,” he said. “But team-wise, they’re fast everywhere. We’re fast in spaces. They have probably as good team speed as anyone I’ve ever seen.”

One of the big x-factors for Mount Airy is kicker Robert Brown, who missed just one extra point all year and has his name scattered across the NCHSAA kicking record books. His 320 career points is third most among kickers in state history.

“My kickers have done a good job on extra points, but their guy, booting 45-yard field goals, we can’t touch that,” Craddock said, laughing. “Hands down, advantage Mount Airy.”