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Vikings defense leaves zero doubt

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Tarboro's Cameron Powell, left, collides with East Surry wide receiver Landon Stevens to break up a reception in the end zone Saturday during the NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, December 15, 2018

RALEIGH — Melik Ward leaned in close to make sure he heard correctly. He even repeated the question back to himself, as if thinking if he said them aloud they would make more sense. Jeff Craddock, also in disbelief, couldn’t contain a wry smile when he heard the same words.

The Tarboro football team won the 1-AA state championship on Saturday over East Surry by a 50-10 final on the backs of a dominant defensive performance and an offense that passed around rushing touchdowns like side dishes at dinnertime.

But what might be the most impressive feat of the night was holding the West-champion Cardinals to zero rushing yards.

“You said what?” Ward, a senior defensive lineman, said when told of this stat.

“This game?” he asked, searching for more clarity. “Wow, man, I didn’t know that. Wow, I guess this defense is really special.”

Ward’s coach, Craddock, who guided the Vikings to the program’s sixth state championship, was just as shocked as his star defensive player.

But this was no ruse.

In all, East Surry picked up 37 rushing yards only to be stopped, dragged, kicking and screaming, behind the line for minus-37 yards for a net of zero.

For the Vikings — whose defense allowed just a second-quarter field goal while holding the Cardinals’ unique passing game which featured a pair of quarterbacks who entered with over 1,000 passing yards apiece to 138 on Saturday through the air — it was an especially dominant performance in a season filled with them.

Craddock, who told reporters postgame that he is a defensive-minded coach, tried to put into words what his unit accomplished in the only way he knows how — Xs and Os.

“That defensive front four is tough and they got better as the year went on,” the longtime coach gushed. “And by Week 18, those linebackers are pretty daggone good too, so you can put in the box a pretty tough set of eight.

“And with those (defensive backs), you can, I guess, hold a good football team to zero yards rushing.”

It’s a number that has to be looked at twice, maybe more for it to make sense. Ward and Craddock will likely examine the stat sheet later and see in number form what they all knew already — this was a special team.

It’s silly to compare one Tarboro team to another. Reporters and players alike can often be guilty of these types of measurements as they aim to see how one team stacks up against another. The Vikings allowed just seven points in last season’s state championship win, after all.

But to out-rush an opponent 442-0 is likely a feat that won’t be topped again.

Defensive end Ja’Viyes Massenburg, who admitted that he was wide-eyed when realizing that the mountain of a man in East Surry offensive tackle Kyle Vaillancourt was his roadblock to the quarterback, gutted out a strong performance to keep that running game from going through him.

“Coming into the game, I ain't about to lie, I was kind of scared because he was 6-foot-8, 230,” Massenburg said. “So, yeah, I had to use my speed and with the lineman I had in front of me I had to use every bit of muscle and technique I had.”

Across the line, Ward, Matthew Medford, Q’davion Barnes and more swallowed Cardinals blockers whole and found themselves in the backfield more often than not, leaving nowhere to go but backward.

“We’re good, but no one gets a big head out there,” Ward said. “It’s probably the best D-line I’ve played on. Still, though. Zero rush yards?”

Zero.

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