Vikings Face Tough Test in Crusaders
Tonight the Union Pines Vikings travel to Raleigh to tangle with the Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders in non-conference North Carolina High School Athletic Association week five 3-A football matchup. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Both the Vikes and the Crusaders enter the contest with records of 3-1. Gibbons opened the season with two wins over 4A schools, defeating Clayton 20-7 and East Chapel Hill 34-7. After a 17-14 loss to 2A Louisburg, the Cardinals bounced back to defeat Ravenscroft (a NCISAA--I private school) 21-13 last week.
Head coach Ryan Riggan, whose Viking football team enters tonight's tilt fresh off the heels of a 48-12 victory against the North Moore Mustangs, feels that tonight's matchup with the Cardinals is a very important one on the schedule.
"This should be a great test for us," said Riggan. "I talked to their coach and tonight is the Crusader's annual youth football game, so the stadium should be packed. The Cardinals are a good team, they made the playoffs last season, they have quality players and are a 3A school; so we are excited for the opportunity to see some action against a program our size.
"We are treating this one like a playoff game. We are going on the road, for a long trip to an urban setting (in Raleigh) and really want to try to give our guys a 'big game feel." Every game is a big game, but this week we are approaching it like we are in the postseason. That way when have to go on the road in the future for critical contests, hopefully we will be able to draw from this game.
In their last two contests the Vikings tallied blowouts wins, scoring a total of 99 points while allowing only three touchdowns (two of which occurred late in the fourth quarters.) Over that two-game span, Union Pines' defense has allowed just 51 first-half -rushing yards on 34 carries, limiting opponents to 1.5 yards per attempt on the ground in the opening two quarters.
Meanwhile, the Vikes' multifaceted offense has found a variety of ways to put the ball in the end zone.
In his last two games Vike senior running back Mitchell McNeill has amassed 422 all-purpose yards, 266 rushing yards on 16 attempts, and scored five touchdowns.
Senior captain Graham Haulsee has carried the ball 19 times for 151 yards and tallied three rushing touchdowns.
Union Pines has also thrived through the air as the offensive unit has found its passing rhythm. Junior quarterback Taylor O'Neil has thrown 4 touchdowns in his last two outings while completing 13 of 21 passes without an interception.
Riggan attributes some of his team's recent prolific point production to the performance of the Viking offensive line.
"Our offensive line has progressed well over the past few weeks," said Riggan. "They have done a good job learning the little things, like keeping their feet moving and getting a better drive off the ball. They have been very solid in terms of pass blocking this season and are coming along in terms of run blocking.
"With our running game, we really need our line to continue focusing on the little things to make the blocks happen for our backs, by creating a little bit of space and time; that is really all our running backs need."
Tonight's weather forecast is calling for a strong chance of rain showers and therefore Riggan has taken extra precautions to ensure his team will be ready to go come game time, regardless of the weather.
"The last time we played in the rain we had about six turnovers," Riggan said, "so we are really going to focus on protecting the football against the Cardinals."
In the their loss this season, the Vikes had three turnovers deep in their own territory, two of which resulted directly in defensive touchdowns and another that lead to a score as they lost 41-0, to the 4-0 Pinecrest Patriots, during a rain drenched ballgame.
In Thursday's practice, Union Pines did some work with wet balls in anticipation of the possibility of poor weather conditions.
"We soaked the balls down and made them heavy, just so the guys could get a feel for it -- just in case," said Riggan.
"It may not rain tonight, but if it does we want to be ready, because we don't want to have another situation like we had in the Pinecrest game where we were not really prepared to play with a wet football."
Contact F.W. manning II at 639-5481 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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