Vikings Eye Postseason Berth
When Union Pines takes the field at Douglas Byrd tonight in the final week of the high school football regular season, it does so with playoffs hopes riding in the balance.
"We have been telling the guys all week that they still hold their own destiny in their hands, and that's something that a lot of teams would like to be able to say," said first-year Union Pines head coach Ryan Riggan. "If we win, we get to keep playing football. If we lose, our season is most likely over."
While the Vikings will attempt to earn their way into the postseason with a win, the Eagles will be looking for a Senior Night victory to stay alive in the race for second place in the final Cape Fear Valley Conference standings, thus improving their seeding in the playoffs.
Douglas Byrd, the defending 4A East Region champion and state championship runner-up, is 6-4 on the year, 3-2 in league play, and has won three of its last four games, including a 42-6 win over Southern Lee last week.
Union Pines' last game was also against Southern Lee and preceded a bye last week. Two weeks ago, the Vikes came away with a 10-0 victory over the Cavs on Senior Night at Woodrow Wilhoit Stadium.
"During our off week, we took an opportunity to work on some fundamental things we didn't feel we had been doing well," Riggan said. "We really tried to fine tune some of the things we think we might be able to use tonight against Byrd."
Union Pines (4-6, 1-4) and Byrd have faced four mutual opponents over the course of the conference season. Both teams dropped games to league-leading Gray's Creek (8-2, 5-0), with the Vikes losing 42-14 and the Eagles falling 33-20.
Meanwhile, second-place Westover (8-2, 4-1) dealt the Vikes a 56-0 loss and bested Byrd 28-14. Union Pines lost 35-0 to Overhills (2-8, 2-3) while Byrd topped the Jaguars 47-13. The Eagles also edged out a 14-7 win over Western Harnett (4-6, 3-2), while Union Pines suffered a 28-14 loss.
Riggan feels that tonight's game is a huge opportunity for his squad and is expecting a true battle.
"This will be a huge test for our program," he said. "We have a chance to play a team that is very good, regardless of the losses they have right now. Byrd is very big, fast and physical. Coach (Russell) Stone does a tremendous job getting those guys ready to play each week, and he has some really experienced players who have a lot of big games under their belts."
Riggan expects the Eagles to feature a strong running attack.
"Offensively they run the ball exceptionally well," he said. "This will not be a situation like Westover, where you have one featured back. Byrd has three backs that can all beat you every time they touch the ball."
Team speed is what most impressed Riggan when scouting Byrd's defense
"Defensively they fly around," said Riggan. "They get 11 hats to the ball very quickly and tackle well."
Although he calls tonight's task "monumental," Riggan does feel the Vikes are capable of pulling the upset if they execute well for the entire 48 minutes while also remaining intense and focused.
"Douglas Byrd is a very good, experienced football team with a strong tradition of excellence," said Riggan. "We have to minimize mistakes and turnovers on offense and do our job on defense to be in this one. To give ourselves an opportunity to win, we need to hang onto the football for certain. Sustaining drives and weathering the storm early are two things that could go a long way for us tonight.
"The Eagles are a group that looks to start fast and let that momentum carry them throughout the game. So if we can put together a solid scoring drive early, one in which we minimize mistakes, play hard and eat some clock, it will go a long way toward our winning the ballgame."
Contact F.W. Manning II at (910) 639-5481 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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