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Season finale: For Tarboro seniors, Friday a final chance to play at home

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Tarboro's Keon Caudle runs the ball during the Vikings game last Friday against North Stanly. For seniors like Caudle, Friday's game against Edenton Holmes will be the last time playing at home.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2018

TARBORO — All teams and all seniors have to face a final home game. Tarboro, by winning excessively, has just been able to delay the inevitable a little bit longer.

But after last week’s 28-0 victory over North Stanly, once all of the adrenaline had worn off, the senior players, part of a 2017 state title, had no other games left to block the creeping reality that after this Friday, when the Vikings host Edenton Holmes in the 1-AA state semis, there will be no more competitive games to play at Tarboro High School.

Should they return for the 2019 season, they’ll return to the field with the Todd Gurley sign and the wheat-colored grass as fans.

“It’s the last chance, last high school game here. It’s a weird feeling,” said senior Jyron Albritton, one of four running backs this year with at least 730 yards rushing. “The feeling is, we just have to go hard and appreciate it.”

Since the win last Friday, coach Jeff Craddock has slipped some sentimentality toward the seniors here and there.

Never in a group setting, he said, but off to the side.

“You don’t make a big deal about it to the team, but you make it more personal to the players as you see them throughout the day. I let them know I love them, that I care about them,” Craddock said. “Just say thank you for everything you’ve done.”

According to MaxPreps.com, the Vikings have 22 seniors in all, many of which helped revive a new title-winning era for Tarboro, with many of the most important recent wins coming on the field they’ve called home over their high school careers. The last one at THS is one Craddock hopes they store away.

“You can win a conference championship and have a shirt or win a state championship and have a ring but usually, sooner or later, the shirt is a rag, and sometimes these guys lose their rings,” Craddock said. “What you keep with you is the memories of the games and being with your teammates and playing high school football, and being able to put on the purple and gold. Coming here on this field where so many great players have played, where so many great games have been played, where we’ve won so many big wins, they know what this last one means.

“I ain’t got to preach about it. I will remind them in my own subtle ways, but they know it. They’re excited. They know it’s the last time they’ll play here.”

Of course, throughout the week, Craddock was also getting his team ready to play.

“At the end of the day, though, once you kick the ball off, it’s about playing the football game, and hopefully they’ll be ready,” he said.

‘Lockdown side’ in for challenge

At 6-foot-3 and 6-foot, respectively, both with the strength and speed to match, Ja'viyes Massenburg and Melik Ward are a formidable force as the right-side duo of the defensive line.

In fact, Massenburg has an apt name for the combination.

“The lockdown side,” he said. “Everybody’s scared to run our way. It kind of makes us mad sometimes. We want to play. We want the contact.”

Oftentimes, both Ward and Massenburg, neither of which lead the team in tackles but have an impact beyond stats, command double teams, freeing up linebackers to stop the opposing team’s rusher, part of the reason why linebackers Ty’Trez Higgs (85) and Clay Craddock (62) lead the team in total tackles.

“When another man adds on because his teammate can’t handle me or Melik, that’s just me doing my job,” Massenburg said. “The linebackers like it.”

The lockdown side, and the rest of the defense, figures to have its hands full on Friday with Edenton Holmes running back Mitjonta Stanley, who leads the state with 2,876 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns.

“From what we’ve seen so far on the film, he’s better than the running back they had from last year,” Massenburg said. “Nothing we can’t handle, though.”

Entering the season, Craddock saw Massenburg as someone who would have to carry over a good sophomore year campaign in 2017 into an improved one this season. He’s checked all the boxes so far.

“He’s done what we asked him to do,” Craddock said. “He needs to have a great night tomorrow night, for sure.”

Praise for Ward

Ward, who has a Division I offer to play at The Citadel, but has still been under-recruited in Craddock’s eyes, has been a rare four-year starter for the Vikings.

And you’d have tough luck trying to find someone around Tarboro with a bad word to say about the defensive end.

Massenburg credited Ward on Thursday with helping develop his technique with using his hands on defense, and his leadership overall.

“I don’t want to admit it, but I take after Melik a little bit,” Massenburg said, laughing. “The way he leads. His work ethic, I take after that. I started my sophomore year on the same side as him. I wasn’t really using my hands the way he was.

“As the weeks went on, I started using my hands more. I just look at how he uses his hands to get off the blocks, so I started doing it, too. He just motivates me”

Added Craddock: “He just works endlessly and he has for years. I can promise you he knows exactly what he has to do to beat his man, no matter what side of the ball he’s on, he’s going to know how that guy likes to block, what he likes to do. I can guarantee he’s been working on his moves all week long to counteract that. That’s what makes him great. He studies the film all week long.”

Just kidding

During a recent TV segment featuring Ward, Craddock was interviewed with his title listed on the bottom of the screen as the “Jacksonville Head Football Coach.”

It was an honest mistake that any media organization could make, but the assistant coaches were having fun with it in practice this week.

“We asked him, ‘When were you going to tell us?’” offensive coordinator Ricky Babb joked.

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