Tarboro football secures program's fifth state championship

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Tarboro's Tae Randolph, right, receives a hug from Kyliend Sharpe on Saturday as they celebrate the Vikings' 32-7 win over Mount Airy in NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.


Sports Writer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

RALEIGH -- In the corner of the end zone, the one with N.C. State painted in white block letters, Tarboro High’s marching band danced and blared music from brass horns throughout the NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game.

The music might as well have been a 48-minute victory anthem as the East’s top-seeded Vikings trashed the West’s top seed in Mount Airy, 32-7, with snow streaming from the sky on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The Vikings (15-0) were able to get their running game going after 14 minutes of scoreless football, then let their dominant defense take over. Tarboro never wavered as it secured the program’s fifth state championship, this one over the Granite Bears (14-1).

“I’m so happy for them, I haven't thought about anything else,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said of his players. “Seeing them celebrate after a couple years of tough, heartbreaking losses they went through, the growing pains of the senior class coming up as sophomores was special. The community relies heavily on the success of Tarboro football, and I’m happy to be able to bring another title back to them.”

Tarboro last advanced to a state title game in 2012, then suffered losses in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, before finding its way back to a championship stage. Former Tarboro star and Ohio State lineman Tyquan Lewis sent the team a message before the game, imploring the players to not only knock on the door of this opportunity, but to smash it down.

The Vikings obliged.

Mount Airy had never scored fewer than 28 points in any game this season until running into Tarboro. The Vikings defense was as good as advertised, allowing 175 yards and forcing three turnovers -- all interceptions.

Tarboro owned the field position battle, as Mount Airy had just four of its 12 drives end in Tarboro territory. The Vikings, meanwhile, finished nine of their 11 drives in Mount Airy territory.

The Bears used a number of spread formations and fakes in the backfield that never stumped their opponent. Tarboro linebacker Phillip Willoughby orchestrated the defensive effort and collected 10 tackles, including a pair for losses. Lineman Melik Ward had two sacks.

“Their spread had some wrinkles we haven’t seen,” Craddock said. “Once we figured it out a little bit, we got Phillip the reads he needed to settle on their run-pass option. They’ve lived on a lot of big plays all season, too, and we wanted to frustrate them a bit and take away what they wanted to do.”

Keon Caudle opened the scoring with a 6-yard run early in the second quarter, then Jyron Albritton scored two minutes later on a wild play. Mount Airy looked to punt, only to have the snap soar over the punter’s head.

Tarboro’s Zion Brooks chased down the punter and hit him just as he got a running kick off. The ball floated to a charging Albritton, who returned the kick for a 36-yard touchdown to push the Vikings lead to 12-0.

“I thought I was going to get a sack,” Brooks said. “I got him, then I looked back and we were scoring a touchdown. I didn’t want to get too happy because the game wasn’t over yet.”

After being shut out for three quarters and most of the fourth, Mount Airy’s offense was able to find success for one drive. The Bears scored a passing touchdown with a little more than five minutes to play, then recovered an onside kick and took over on the Tarboro 49, trailing 18-7.

But Brooks ended any threat of the Bears making things interesting as he picked off quarterback Ian Holder to set up game MVP Deontae Williams’ second rushing touchdown of the game three plays later.

Mount Airy would later have a punt blocked to set up a Jaquez Edge rushing score as the lead ballooned to 32-7. The Bears’ final push came to a halt when linebacker Winston Johnson recorded the Vikings’ third interception of the game with 1:44 left.

All that was left was a couple Tae Randolph kneel downs to seal the victory.

“We just kept doing what we were doing all season,” Randolph said. “We knew we were going to break through if we kept grinding.”