Unsung heroes come through for Vikings
BY PATRICK MASON
Saturday, December 9, 2017
RALEIGH -- Keon Caudle walked out of Tarboro High’s assigned locker room at Carter-Finley Stadium following the Vikings’ 32-7 win over Mount Airy in the NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game.
Caudle was yelling and celebrating with his teammates moments earlier, but when the junior stepped into the hallway deep under the bleachers, he struggled to find words. Emotional outbursts of joy was the easy part. Trying to describe his role over the previous 2 hours and 35 minutes was difficult, so he picked at the white athletic tape that wrapped around his wrists.
Anything to keep busy, waiting for the right words to spill out.
So much of what made the Vikings special this season was the play of a dominant senior class, most of whom were called up to the varsity squad as sophomores.
Senior quarterback Tae Randolph was the conductor to a running game that was never slowed all season. Senior and title-game MVP Deontae Williams, who rushed for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns, spent the season as a home-run play threat in the backfield.
Linebacker Phillip Willoughby, the team leader in tackles, and fellow senior Devonta Davis were key pieces in making the defense hum throughout the season. Willoughby and Randolph sat beside coach Jeff Craddock, his hand-picked leaders, in the post-game press conference, answering questions with microphones and cameras ready to capture every word and every expression.
It takes players like those mentioned about to win games and sort through the chaos that is presented as an organized spot.
It takes players like Caudle, Zion Brooks and Jyron Albritton to win championships. It takes depth.
And Tarboro had plenty.
Caudle, who often takes a backseat to the Vikings’ main rushing threats, shined when his moment arrived, scoring the game’s first touchdown with 9:32 left in the second quarter. His run snapped an offensive drought that involved a rare stretch of ineffective offense.
Tarboro punted twice, after all.
The junior who had eight carries in the Vikings’ three previous playoff games combined, turned those touches into 75 yards. It took until the Vikings’ third drive for him to get his first carry, and he made the most of it.
Caudle scored from 6 yards out and gave Tarboro a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“I was just happy to be here,” said Caudle, who finished with 53 yards on four carries. “This is a dream come true. Just happy to be there is all.”
He tugged on the tape some more, his voice wavering.
Soon, he got it to unravel.
The words followed.
“I kind of knew that I was going to do something,” he continued. “But score? No way. We have so many talented guys and I was just looking to contribute. And, especially, to do it on a college field, it was a blessing to be able to contribute how I did.”
Albritton, a junior linebacker whose name hasn’t appeared in many articles, delivered the second Tarboro touchdown when he never quit on a botched Mount Airy punt attempt. High school specials teams can be a fickle beasts, and it was on Saturday, probably aided by the wet snow that sent spectators to seek shelter under the stadium’s overhangs.
Albritton blasted through the middle of three Granite Bears players who figured the play was over, only to snag a soft kick and return it 36 yards to push the Vikings lead to 12-0. Brooks never quit on the play, either, chasing down the punter and delivering a hit that affected the kick.
Brooks appeared later, with the Vikings feeling some heat. Down by 11 points midway through the fourth quarter, Mount Airy had the ball at midfield. Brooks, from his defensive end postion, jumped in front of Ian Holder’s pass to effectively shut down any hopes of a comeback.
It was Brooks’ first interception of the season, and the first time he got to touch the ball throughout the playoffs.
“It felt like I was back on JV running the ball as a running back,” Brooks said. “I was just telling the team that something good was going to happen, and something good happened.”
Caudle was out of tape to tug.
He finally looked up, heard his teammates hollering in the locker room, and smiled.
Until next year.