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Across the line: Aces will force Tarboro defense to play smart

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Tarboro will need a complete defensive effort, like this stop during last week's win over North Stanly, in order to slow down semifinal opponent Edenton Holmes' triple-option rushing attack on Friday.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Tarboro football team is one win away from a berth in the state championship game, and for the second consecutive season Edenton Holmes is the final hurdle to clear in order to get out of the East.

The Vikings had no trouble in getting past the Aces in 2017 with a 50-7 victory, though this matchup presents new set of challenges. The two main Edenton Holmes running backs featured in its triple-option offense from last season graduated in Keimon Bailey (2,470 yards) and Dequantae Spruill (880).

Despite the losses of more than 3,000 yards of production, the Aces have found ways to improve even while bringing along a largely inexperienced offensive line, none of which had played a varsity snap before 2018.

Top-seeded Tarboro (13-0) will have to contend with yet another high-scoring offense for the Aces who have proved tricky to defend. The main beneficiary of their triple-option rushing attack has been running back Mitjonta Stanley, whose 2,876 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns are tops in the state.

Stanley played quarterback when the Vikings defeated the Aces in the same round a season ago, yet he will provide a new challenge this time around running out of the backfield. Stanley’s running mate, senior Nakevin Hill, has taken advantage of his increased playing time and is the second-leading rusher with 647 yards and six touchdowns.

“The way they run their triple-option is impressive. It’s just hard to defend,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “One mistake by your defense and 80 yards later they’re standing in the end zone.”

The No. 3 Aces (12-1) have the ability to throw the ball some with quarterback Kentraez Coston’s 742 yards and 13 touchdowns. Coston is the one making the reads to pitch or run, and the Vikings success on defense will hinge on their ability to bottle up runs before they reach the edge, while also making sure not to overplay certain looks.

“We’ve got to do a great job of playing assignment football,” Craddock said. “The quarterback there throws the ball pretty well, too, but obviously if you don’t stop their running back you’re in for a long night. You’ve got to do what you can to stop him, but then the quarterback will pull it and he’s fast as a cat. Then you jump on him and he pitches it at any time.”

Edenton Holmes’ lone loss came against undefeated Elizabeth City Northeastern, 30-14, on Sept. 21, a game in which the Aces held a 14-6 lead at halftime. The Aces offense fizzled twice by not converting on fourth down inside the Northeastern 30, and were outscored 24-0 after the break.

Since that loss, the Aces haven’t allowed more than 24 points in any game while winning eight consecutive games.

1-AA East Regional

No. 3 Edenton Holmes (12-1) at No. 1 Tarboro (13-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Tarboro High School

How they got here: After a first-round bye, Edenton Holmes defeated East Carteret, 60-0, and Riverside 48-21. Tarboro, after a first-round bye, defeated South Stanly, 62-6, and North Stanly, 28-0.

Up next: The winner advances to the state championship game at N.C. State and would play either the West’s No. 2 Starmount or No. 4 East Surry.

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