Person, O'Neil Lead Vikes Over 'Stangs
Union Pines received career-best performances from two of its captains on the gridiron at Woodrow Wilhoit Stadium Friday, as the Vikings captured a 35-12 victory against North Moore.
“The atmosphere was amazing out here in terms of the crowd,” Viking head coach Ryan Riggan said. “Carly Lively, (a three-sport standout for Union Pines), headed up our “Spirit Section,” and the newly formed student section was awesome.
“To come out and have such a sizeable student contingent behind you like that makes it so much better. It is good for the guys, because it shows that the school is supporting what they are doing and really makes for a great experience.”
Vike senior quarterback Taylor O’Neil threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the tilt, completing 15-26 passes. On the other side of the ball, senior linebacker Cameron Person racked up 13 tackles, forced three fumbles and blocked a punt in the cross-county nonconference pigskin clash for Union Pines.
“I felt like we were playing for redemption,” said O’Neil after the game. “Last week’s loss to Chatham Central stung quite a bit. So we had to come out here tonight, get focused and just react and do whatever we could to put points on the board.”
On Union Pines’ first play of the night, O’Neil connected with Tim Bean for 31 yards down the right sideline. He would go on to complete three of his first five attempts, including a pair of touchdown tosses to Bean and Chris Rubinosky, as the Vikes opened up a 14-0 lead with 7:01 left in the first.
North Moore then responded with a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Senior signal caller Xavier Scotton threw a strike to Billy Person for a 23-yard touchdown, as the Mustangs closed the margin to 14-6 with 2:46 left in the opening quarter.
From there, the contest got sloppy as both teams committed three consecutive turnovers. After Viking safety Garrison Peele intercepted a pass, junior tailback A.J. Ritter fumbled to give the ball to North Moore.
Cameron Person blocked a Mustang punt, but Union Pines turned it over on another fumble deep in its own territory.
Forced to punt away again, North Moore recovered the lose ball when Ritter dropped the kick. But the Mustangs quickly relinquished possession, as Person stripped the football loose with 5:40 remaining in the second quarter for his third forced fumble of the night.
The play would prove pivotal, as Union Pines marched 68-yards down field to take a 21-6 lead. O’Neil capped off the drive with his third touchdown pass of the night, when he rolled left and hit sophomore Braxton Ross on fourth down for an 8-yard score.
North Moore head coach Greg Simmons said after the contest that the Mustangs are still a “learning football team.”
“We are learning about everything,” Simmons said. “We are learning about adversity, we are learning about rivalries, we are learning what it is like to play in front of big crowds and my kids are giving it everything they got.
“We just have to do a better job of fixing the mistakes we can control, while not trying to fix the things that are out of our hands. I really think if we eliminate some of our own mental breakdowns, this was anybody’s football game.”
Simmons felt that the Vikings did deserve some recognition for the final outcome.
“Union Pines is a big school with lots of kids and a great coaching staff,” he said. “The Vikings did a great job of attacking us where we are weak and and their coaches had a solid game plan. So a lot of the credit has to go to them — we made mistakes but Union Pines did a lot of good things, too.”
In the opening half, O’Neil connected on 12 of his 22 attempts for 195 passing yards. Meanwhile, Person tallied seven tackles in the first two periods to go along with the three forced fumbles and blocked punt.
After the game, Person admitted Union Pines’ tough 29-27 loss at Chatham Central last week had been in the back of his mind.
“We just had to get out there and make some tackles,” Person said. “We had not been making tackles the last two weeks and it really cost us. That was our mindset — to just make tackles and come out here and play hard.”
Riggan said he loves all his players, but admitted Person is “awesome.”
“Cameron is a guy that has come so far as a person and a football player,” he said. “He does everything you ask him to do and he makes some exciting plays on the field. He does his film study and works hard at practice all week and that shows when it is game time. He is a true leader and a lot of fun to watch.”
Ritter scored twice in the third quarter for Union Pines. His second touchdown came directly after North Moore scored on an amazing 39-yard reception by Scotton, who finished with 154 all-purpose yards.
The Union Pines offense took the field after Scotton’s score, facing a first and 10 at its own 9-yard line. On the first play, O’Neil hit Ritter in the right flat, where he crossed all the way over to the left side line and broke free for a 91-yard touchdown. Seth Breasseale then tacked on his fifth successful extra-point, bringing the final margin to 35-12.
Vike senior Carson Kelly, who was sidelined last week due to sickness, had two sacks and seven tackles in the game. Meanwhile, Union Pines’ junior defensive lineman Shakeem McRae turned in a huge performance, making eight tackles along with tallying four quarterback pressures.
“I really think both our offense and defense did a good job tonight,” McRae said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth from last week, and we used that energy to focus and practice hard every day to get ready for this one. We put our whole heart into this game and we plan on hitting the practice field next week and going right back at it.”
The Vikings are now 2-2 on the year while North Moore is 0-3. Union Pines hosts 3A Cardinal Gibbons (3-1) Friday in a nonconference contest, while the Mustangs are also in nonconference action at 2A Jordan-Matthews (3-1).
NM 6 0 6 0 12
UP 14 7 14 0 35
Scoring: (U) Bean 11-pass from O’Neil (Breasseale kick); (U) Rubinosky 6-pass from O’Neil (Breasseale kick); (N) B. Person 23-pass from Scotton (failed two-point); (UP) Ross 8-pass from O’Neil (S Breasseale kick); (U) Ritter 4-run (Breasseale kick); (N) Scotton 39-pass from T. Wallace (failed two-point); (UP) Ritter 91-pass from O’Neil (Breasseale kick).
Team stats: First downs (N) 16 (U) 18; Rushing (N) 46-142 (U) 35-151; Passing (N) 5-16 87 (U) 15-26 311.
Individual stat leaders: Rushing (N) Scotton 19-86, J. Brower 9-29; (U) Ritter 14-67, J. McMillan 6-34, T. Gray 6-27 (P); Passing – (N) Wallace 4-8-0 64, Scotton 1-7-1 23; (U) O’Neil 15-26-0 311; Receiving – (N) Scotton 2-45, Person 2-32; (U) Ritter 1-91, D. Adams 4-86, Bean 3-51, Rubinosky 4-47.
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