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After loss, Mount Airy ponders the what-ifs

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Tarboro's Ja'viyes Massenburg, left, and Joseph Lyons, right, combine to tackle Mount Airy's Johnathon Smith as he runs the ball Saturday in the NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports writer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

RALEIGH —- It was the onside kick that changed the game.

Well, almost.

Right after a 36-yard touchdown pass that cut Tarboro’s lead to 11 points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mount Airy kicker Robert Brown dribbled a kick exactly 10 yards, then pounced on his own creation a split-second before the Vikings’ Jacob Knight could get it himself.

It was Granite Bears ball in a two-score game against the Tarboro Vikings, the champions-in-waiting all season in 1-AA football.

But two plays later, the momentum was gone. Mount Airy quarterback Kelly Holder threw his third interception of the game, this one to Zion Brooks. Two touchdowns later, the 1-AA title game’s final score was a much less intriguing 32-7.

Afterwards, in the underbelly of Carter-Finley Stadium, the Granite Bears gave the Vikings all the deserved praise as the rightful champs, but the Western Conference representatives couldn’t help but ponder the what-ifs.

“It’ll probably always be in the back of my mind. What if we scored on that first drive? What if I didn’t throw that pick late?” said Ian Holder, the son of head coach Kelly Holder. “ Me being the senior and the quarterback and the leader, I wanted to get the job done. But there’s definitely positives. I mean, they’re insanely, insanely, good.”

In essence, two of the Vikings scores came on botched punts. The first was in the second quarter, when a bad snap forced Brown to track down and rush a desperate punt, which Tarboro’s Jyron Albritton promptly took to the end zone for a 12-0 lead.

The second came late in the game inside Mount Airy’s own five-yard line -- a blocked attempt that ended in a rushing touchdown to push the deficit to 25 with three minutes left.

Then, there was the time late in the first quarter of a scoreless game, when the Granite Bears were driving inside Tarboro’s 30-yard line, threatening to hand the Vikings their first deficit of the year.

Instead, two straight pre-snap infractions pushed the ball to a first-and-20, and an interception on a long ball ended the drive for good. Two minutes later, Tarboro converted its first score of the game. Mount Airy trailed 12-0 going into halftime, still a tide-turning play away from a close game.

This season, said coach Kelly Holder, a calling-card of theirs was to defer on the coin toss and score coming out of the halftime break. That didn’t happen, either.

The offensive took a big loss on the first play of the third quarter and a punt ensued.

“If we could do that as well as our defense was playing at that time I thought it would really give us a shot,” he said. “The theme of the game was the fact that they limited what we wanted to do on offense. We could move it but we just couldn’t get it done when we needed to.

The touchdown catch by Donavon Greene -- a Division I bound reciever who also kept several Vikings touchdowns off the board as a free safety -- was really the first big time play on offense for the Granite Bears, who finished with 175 yards in all. The second was the perfect onside kick from Brown. There were no more after that.

“I give them all kinds of credit, there’s no question,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “That team wasn't going to quit.”

The 25-point win for the Vikings was the closest an opponent got all year. But for Mount Airy, was there solace in that?

“Probably not,” Holder said. “After the fact that they’re a really good football team, it was not one of our better games. They had a lot to do with that, though. Hats off to them.”

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