Tarboro falls short of finals berth


Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock yells instructions to the team Friday during the game against Southern Nash at Southern Nash High School.


By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Saturday, December 10, 2016

WALLACE — When Tarboro was playing well Friday, the football team hung with two-time defending 1-AA champ Wallace-Rose Hill.

But when things went wrong for the Vikings, they went about as terribly as they could. Tarboro (12-3) fumbled twice to create Bulldogs’ scores, and a fluky special teams’ play added another as the Vikings fell in the 1-AA East Regional finals, 35-17.

After not getting past the third round in last three years, Tarboro finished two quarters away from a chance at its ultimate goal. For Vikings coach Jeff Craddock, there wasn’t really anything he could say to make his players feel better.

“You have to understand that you are dealing with teenage guys, and they have put a lot of effort into something and come so close,” Craddock said. “The goal is to always win a state title, and we came within a half of playing for one but came up short.

“These guys put a lot of time into preparing for what we do. You just try to help them focus. Yeah, it is hard, but the sun is going to shine tomorrow. . . We just couldn’t overcome our mistakes.”

Tarboro held a 3-point lead after halftime, but that margin disappeared quickly. The Vikings’ defense forced Wallace-Rose Hill into a turnover-on-downs to start the third. Three plays into their next series, the Vikings fumbled to create a 20-yard scoop and Bulldogs’ score. 

The Vikings could never respond back. Tarboro’s offensive success from the first half vanished. The Vikings rustled up only two first downs in the final two quarters, and one of those came from a Wallace-Rose Hill pass interference. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs started the fourth with a scoring drive to extend their lead to 11. 

“We just couldn’t mount,” Craddock said. “They just got momentum back from that point.”

Tarboro was victim to a weird play in the waning moments of the game. Pinned around their own 20, the Vikings lined up to punt on a fourth down. Dawson Harris took the snap and went to kick, but a Wallace-Rose Hill defender pressured him. The kick came out short, and a Bulldogs player caught the ball at the Tarboro 28. He scored a touchdown, and the home sideline erupted. 

“Their defensive line dominated us in the second half,” Craddock said. “They were physically better than us up front. They weren’t bigger than us, but they were better than us upfront, and it showed in the second half.”

The game couldn’t have started worse for Tarboro. The Vikings fumbled the ball away on their first series, then a pitch attempt was intercepted and returned for a score on their second. Add another Wallace-Rose Hill score, and the Vikings trailed 14-3 after the first quarter.

Tarboro recovered to score on its two second-quarter drives, both ending in scoring runs from battering ram Jaquez Edge. He finished with 70 yards rushing. Tarboro wide receiver Shy’Keem Hussey had a 30-plus yard catch on each series that put the Vikings in the red zone. 

“I thought (the players’ response) was fantastic, Craddock said. “You think you didn’t play a great first quarter, but you look up and it is halftime. We thought OK, we played well, but we need to keep digging. And then we came out in the third quarter and did the same thing.

“When you are playing great football teams, it is tough to get over it once. It is tough to get over it twice.”

It was the seventh East Regional game for Wallace-Rose Hill in the last eight years. The Bulldogs are looking to win their third consecutive state title next weekend. Wallace-Rose Hill coach Joey Price said the team has made its success from capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes. 

“That is what we do, that is what we want: short fields,” Price said. “We talk every week about getting those short fields to give to our offense. I am not going to say we have the most prolific offense since I’ve been here, but it is good enough to get the job done.

“Our defense is what we hang our hat on.”