TARBORO – Every season during what is now the fifth year of the Tarboro Vikings’ dynasty, each team has learned to make the leap from good to great.
The 2012 version of the Vikings is no different, and although they still are seeking that advancement to elite status, the end result remains the same.
Another Tarboro victory.
Keithion Battle forced and recovered a fumbled pitch with 35 seconds remaining to help Tarboro hold off Kinston, 34-27, on Friday night.
In the process, the Vikings (7-0, 4-0 EPC) claimed sole possession of first place in the Eastern Plains Conference heading into next week’s rivalry game against SouthWest Edgecombe.
This contest looked like a runaway for the three-time defending 2-A state champions, who were playing last season’s 2-AA state finalist.
But if one blinked a few times Friday night, they saw Tarboro almost blow leads of 14 and 21 points.
“With this football team, that has been the case. We’ve been in games where we could have put teams away and we didn’t,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said.
The first lapse came in the second quarter, when in the matter of 15 seconds, Tarboro saw its 14-0 lead cut to 14-13.
Kinston scored an offensive touchdown, recovered a Tarboro fumble on the kickoff, then threw a 40-yard touchdown pass on the next play.
Tarboro managed to take a 28-13 lead into halftime, then extended it on a Vikings-like 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that seemed to put them in cruise control mode.
After his team forced a three-and-out, its offense pulled up lame with three poor plays.
Craddock could sense that seemingly innocent drive would hurt his squad.
He said the team was not lined up correctly on two of its three plays, leaving the door open for a capable Kinston offense.
“Great teams go down and make it 41-13, and you don’t get into the mess we got in,” Craddock said.
Kinston responded with a touchdown, then recovered an onsides kick. The visitors, who have lost four of their past five games, then scored on a 4th-and-13 from their own 22 to cut the lead to 34-27.
Inexplicably, Tarboro’s special teams did not recover yet another onsides kick, and Kinston lined up for the tying score.
Tarboro’s defense stepped up, turning the ball back to its offense on downs, then holding off Kinston on a final drive when Battle perfectly played the pitch from VeQuain Joyner to Raheem Freeland.
Tarboro did not have a 100-yard rusher, but its balance was apparent. Travonne Marshall rushed for 64 yards and three touchdowns, while Aaron Moore and Quentin Roberson found the end zone, as well. Radja Bobbitt contributed with 73 yards rushing, and Tarboro won its 15th straight contest dating back to Oct. 7, 2011, a 54-48 loss to Kinston.
“Our kids fought hard and made a play at the end,” Craddock said. “I think we’re a good team that plays hard. I always tell the kids, it’s a long game. Thank the Lord we were seven points better.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org