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Tarboro plays Mount Airy for shot at fifth state title

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Tarboro's Keon Caudle, right, celebrates with Malik Ward after Ward sacked Edenton Holmes' Mitjonta Stanley on Friday during the NCHSAA 1-AA East Regional final at Tarboro High School.

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By PATRICK MASON & SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writers

Friday, December 8, 2017

No. 1 Tarboro vs. No. 1 Mount Airy

The game: The 1-AA football bracket is down to Eastern Conference representative Tarboro (14-0) and Western Conference representative Mount Airy (14-0), which will play today at 4 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium for the state championship. Both entered the tournament as No. 1 seeds. Tickets for the game are $9. It will be televised on WRDC/ MY TV (28.1) Suddenlink. 

The Vikings turned in a dominant season on both sides of the ball, holding opponents to less than five points per game. They’ll be looking for their fourth state title since 2009. The Granite Bears last won the state championship in 2008, also reaching the final in 2009, when they played at the 1-A level.

Mount Airy’s perspective: Like the Vikings, Mount Airy had its fair share of running clocks this season. Of their 14 wins, 11 were decided by 21 or more points -- partly a byproduct of some weaker conference opponents, said head coach Kelly Holder on Monday at the State Football Champions Press Conference and Information Session.

Though the Granite Bears had a few close encounters this season -- a 49-35 victory over Murphy in the semifinal game atop the list -- this matchup with the Vikings will be unequivocally their biggest challenge yet.

“We’ve known about them. They’ve had a really good team for a long time. We kept our ears open for them since the beginning of the year because we knew how good they were going to be,” Holder said. “Since the playoffs have come along, when you see their scores you know right away they’re pretty much head and shoulders above the rest in the Eastern Conference. They’re the best we’ll play. We hope we’re the best they’ll play.”

The players: While it’s impossible to compare the merits of two high school offenses which have never played each other, there’s no question Mount Airy has the more diverse scoring attack.

The Granite Bears threw the ball 154 times this season compared to 41 for Tarboro, the vast majority of those attempts coming from Ian Holder, who threw for 23 touchdowns and almost 2,000 yards. The most explosive member of the offense is wide receiver Donavon Greene, a Division I prospect who caught 15 touchdowns and totaled over 1,000 yards.

Mount Airy also boasts a high-volume running back in Johnathon Smith (14,777 yards rushing, 25 touchdowns), and a kicker in Robert Brown whose name is scattered across the NCHSAA record book.

Tarboro’s perspective: The Vikings return to the state championship game for the first time since a runner-up finish in 2012. Tarboro hasn’t played in a game decided by fewer than 28 points all season as no team came close to pushing the East’s No. 1 seed.

The Vikings have posted six shutouts in 14 games and have scored at least 40 points in 13 of those games. The postseason wasn’t much different with the Vikings allowing just 17 points while scoring 147.

Tarboro has played a pair of teams the past two weeks in West Montgomery and Edenton Holmes that had a running back with over 2,000 rushing yards. While those numbers are hard to overlook, the Vikings had no trouble keeping the pair contained.

The players: The Vikings don’t have any single-player stats that match some of the eye-popping output from playoff opponents, but the Vikings made up for it as a team. They have rushed for just shy of 5,000 yards.

Tarboro has 10 players with at least 100 rushing yards, and is led by Jaquan Edge’s 899 and 17 touchdowns. Deontae Williams also had 17 touchdowns to go with 834 yards. The other piece to the Vikings’ three-headed rushing attack, CLifton Joyner Jr., has 881 yards and 13 scores.

Quarterback Tae Randolph has completed 27 of 40 pass attempts this season for 582 yards and 12 touchdowns. Randolph’s top target is Joseph Lyons who has six touchdown receptions and 179 yards on 7 catches.

Telegram prediction: While Mount Airy appears a formidable final test, this season seems like one of destiny for the Vikings. Tarboro 42, Mount Airy 21.

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