Union Pines Faces Tough Gray's Creek Squad
BY F.W. MANNING II
Special to The Pilot
Offensive penalties and missed tackles were two areas of major emphasis for Union Pines head football coach Ryan Riggan this week as he readied the Vikings for tonight's Cape Fear Valley Conference battle at Gray's Creek.
Over the past two weeks, Union Pines' offense has generated seven points in eight quarters and has been called for several costly early-down infractions.
"Our biggest problem has stemmed from penalties," Riggan said. "We get a good play on first down and then on second-and-manageable, we false start or hold or something that turns it in to 2nd and 14. When you spend most of the first quarter playing behind the chains, it's awfully hard to get much going on offense."
Before its recent two-game skid, Union Pines had scored 103 points in its first four games. Since then, the Vikings have been outscored 78-7. Pass protection, run blocking and catching the football are three places Riggan feels have been subpar for the Vike offense.
"As far as blocking goes," Riggan said, "we have to get better at sustaining blocks and picking up blitzes. We haven't done a particularly good job calling out assignments and getting to the block we're supposed to."
Through week four, Union Pines senior quarterback Taylor O'Neil had completed 37 of his 83 pass attempts for 10 TDs and 760 yards. Since then, O'Neil has gone 16-43 for 127 yards with three interceptions and one touchdown pass.
"Taylor has continued to throw pretty good balls but our receivers have missed too many easy catches," Riggan said. "We've stressed to the guys all week that we have a good quarterback, but we have to help him out."
After falling 40-0 last week to Overhills (1-5, 1-0), the Vikes are 0-1 in the CFVC and 2-4 overall as they hit the road to face the defending CFVC champion Gray's Creek Bears.
In its conference opener, Gray's Creek knocked off then-undefeated Douglas Byrd (5-1, 0-1) by a 24-19 margin in Fayetteville.
Tonight, the Bears bring a 4-2 record into their CFVC home opener with the Vikings. Gray's Creek is currently on a three-game winning streak. Over that span the Bears have outscored their opponents by a total of 87-3, allowing just 11.3 points per game on defense.
Riggan said Gray's Creek's defense is sound at maintaining assignments and really swarms to the football. But he feels what the Bears do best is move the ball on the ground.
"The run game is clearly their top strength," Riggan said. "Devonte Cooley is a tremendous back with the ability to break it on every touch."
Cooley, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, is averaging 160.8 rushing yards and 13.8 points per game on the season.
Riggan feels that if Union Pines' defensive players can get where they are supposed to be on the field and make tackles, then his team will have a chance.
"Tackling has hurt us tremendously the past two weeks," he said. "We feel like we've had a pretty good plan both weeks and gotten to where we needed to be. It's up to the guys to get them to the ground once they get there.
"We have to play a perfect game on both sides tonight. Make every block and make tackles when we get the chance. Everyone has to play as a unit and give everything they have for the cause. We have to do that for four quarters to give ourselves a chance."
Tonight's kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Hope Mills.
Contact F.W. Manning II at firstname.lastname@example.org
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