Vikings Want to Build on Last Week's Win
Another chapter in the storied cross-county rivalry between the Pinecrest Patriots and the Union Pines Vikings football teams will unfold, at Woodrow Wilhoit Stadium tonight in Cameron, as the two Moore County Schools will take to the gridiron for the Battle of the Pines IX.
For first-year head coach Ryan Riggan and the Vikes, the game will be their home opener as they entertain coach Chris Metzger and the Patriots on a pristine new playing surface at Union Pines.
The Vikings and Pinecrest both come into the tilt fresh off convincing wins in their season openers a week ago, as Union Pines soundly defeated Red Springs on the road 34-20, while the Pats pounded Enloe 41-20 at Pinecrest.
The last time the two schools met at Union Pines, in the Battle of the Pines XII, it was 2007 and the game went down as a classic installment in the series, as Pinecrest scored with 28 seconds remaining to win 33-27.
In his first year as the head coach of Pinecrest, Metzger saw the 2007 Patriots storm out of the gates to take a 21-0 halftime lead. Meanwhile Riggan was a member of the Viking coach staff, where he watched the game from on top of the press box with a headset, talking to then assistant head coach Jason Furrie, who Riggan replaced in May of this year.
Union Pines battled all the way back to tie the game at 27-all and had a chance to take the lead with the extra-point attempt, but the Vikes failed to convert the kick. The Vikes would later drive the ball down deep into the red zone before stalling out on third down. They then missed a potential game-winning field goal from 20 yards.
Much has happened in the span of two years. After serving one year as an assistant coach for Metzger, Riggan is now the head coach of the Vikings. Meanwhile, Pinecrest has proven to be a legitimate threat in the 4-A ranks as Metzger is now into his third season with the Patriots.
Vike senior captain and three-year starter Graham Haulsee, who was Union Pines' team MVP and sole all-conference selection in 2008, says that game has never escaped very far from the forefront of his mind.
"I have always carried a part of the 2007 battle with me in every game I have played since then," Haulsee said. "It was a tough game, both teams played really well and it was a shame one had to lose. Games like that leave a bad taste in your mouth, but it is a taste that stays with you. It being my senior year, I want to win -- Nothing less (will do.)"
Haulsee played a big role in the Vikes first win this season. Scoring three rushing touchdowns from the fullback slot, he gained 58 yards on 14 carries. He also saw a good amount of time at linebacker where he was among the Vikings' leading tacklers on a defense that stifled Red Springs' run attack and held them to six first-half points.
"It's been a big week around here," said Haulsee. "Our practices in particular went really well. The coaches did a great job of keeping us very focused and disciplined on the field, in the weight room and during film discussion. I feel like both our offense and defense understand their assignments as a unit, and (we) are well prepared for tonight."
When Riggan was asked to speak about the importance of tonight's football game, he was forthcoming and frank.
"For Union Pines this game is very important," Riggan said, "because of the (two) schools being so close in proximity to each other and a lot of our kids knowing kids over there (and vice versa). Each school has a chance to claim or renew bragging rights for a year and the administrators usually have some kind of thing going on too, so that makes it fun.
"The game is very important to me, in the aspect that we want to come out of the gates with a great start this season. Getting the first one (in the win column) was very important and now you want to win the next one. I know how hard our guys have worked and we really want them to have the success that comes from that."
Riggan also does not want himself or the Vikings to lose sight of the fact that the contest is another game in a long season, where every Friday is a vital one.
"To our team, tonight is most important because it's the next game." He said. "We try to keep our guys focused on each week with the same intensity as the one before. Our guys are really pumped about playing Pinecrest and seem to be getting prepared as well as possible. Only one player on this team played varsity several years ago when Union Pines won, so I think a lot of our seniors really want this one bad."
According to Riggan, the Vikes have had a strong week of preparation and are up to tonight's task.
"Practice was great this week," he said, "and our guys seemed to be very intense and really receptive to the things we're teaching them. The film sessions also went well. Our guys learned what we need to improve to be successful, and I think they've picked up a lot this week."
Both Riggan and his team know where Pinecrest's strength lay and also know what they (the Vikes) need to do to have success.
"Offensively Pinecrest has several backs that can take it to the house every time they touch it," Riggan said, "and with (James) Baldwin at receiver it's almost a situation where you pick your poison.
"Defensively from the tapes, we've really noticed the Pats' team speed and their ability to get everyone to the football. They tackle well and create turnovers, which is an area we've really focused hard on this week; we simply cannot turn it over in to this game."
What stood out most for Riggan in the Vikes' win last week was their success on the ground. Mitchell McNeil carried the ball 13 times for 138 yards and two rushing scores, while Haulsee had three touchdowns on the ground. As a team the Union Pines amassed 265 rushing yards and averaged nearly seven yards a carry last Friday.
"Our ground game definitely carried us against Red Springs," Riggan said, "and that was great. We've focused a lot on passing this week and we really want to become more efficient in the air. We would like our offense to be more balanced but if the run is open and the pass is struggling then we have no problem running it."
Union Pines was four-for-18 through the air for 35 yards last week, as junior quarterbacks Taylor O'Neil and Garrison Peele both got their first real taste of the experience in being a first-unit high school football signal caller.
"We've been really working hard on our passing game and so hopefully it will pay off," Riggan said. "We've also got some good young receivers who can do some good things if they play to the best of their abilities and with time I think trust both our quarterback will iron out some of the rough spots they experienced in week one."
Going into his third Battle of the Pines, Metzger is 2-0 as the Pinecrest's head coach. The Patriots defeated Union Pines 47-10 last year at Pinecrest. This is Riggan's first Battle of the Pines as a head coach, although he is 1-1 in the series as a coach (he was a Vike assistant in 2007 and a Patriot assistant last season.)
Contact F.W. Manning II at 639-5481 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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