Union Pines Faces Cardinal Gibbons
BY F.W. MANNING II
Special to The Pilot
Cardinal Gibbons comes calling tonight as the Union Pines' football team wraps up its nonconference schedule against the Crusaders in Cameron.
Last week, Union Pines defeated cross-county rival North Moore 35-12 to improve its record to 2-2 on the season. Vike starting quarterback Taylor O'Neil had four touchdown tosses and passed for 311 yards. The senior captain now has 10 total TDs through the air and has passed for 760 yards on the season.
Head coach Ryan Riggan was pleased with the crowd support Union Pines got in its second home game of the season last week and is hoping for more of the same tonight against Cardinal Gibbons.
"The kids have been really excited about the creation of our student section and would love to see the same type support we got last week," Riggan said. "We are doing our part from the football end - working on getting the guys ready to give our fans more to cheer about."
According to Riggan, the ramifications of tonight's game against Cardinal Gibbons could be huge for Union Pines.
"This is definitely a big week in terms of building momentum for conference play," he said. "Our kids have been playing better each week and we are finally developing a little chemistry with everyone coming back."
The Vikings enter tonight's contest with a full complement of healthy players after having a total of 10 players suspended after the Pinecrest game in week two. Five of those players did return to action last week against North Moore.
"We've had a couple of guys out sick this week but we've had some younger kids step in and start to understand and make contributions in practice," said Riggan.
The 3A Crusaders are from the Carolina Conference and bring a record of 3-1 into tonight's ballgame. After dropping its first game of the season 33-13 to Clayton, Cardinal Gibbons has won three straight, including a 29-15 victory over NCISAA Ravenscroft last week, along with wins against 4A East Chapel Hill (40-28) and 2A Louisburg (37-20).
Riggan feels that the Vikings have a good plan in place for tonight's game but stressed that his players have "to execute that plan" for Union Pines to have success.
"Gibbons is a well-coached team and they aren't going to make many mistakes," he said. "We just have to be sound, too, and take care of all the things that we can actually control. We have to execute and our receivers have to make catches. We've got a good plan going in, I think, but we have to execute that plan."
According to Riggan, the Crusaders line up in an I-formation as their primary set on offense.
"They do a lot of isolation and power running plays, and they execute very well," Riggan said. "We just have to be responsible and do our jobs defensively. They will mix in a little shotgun and spread it out but mostly they like to line up and run right at you."
Last season in Raleigh, Cardinal Gibbons defeated Union Pines 17-7 in a hard-hitting battle, dealing the Vikings their second loss of the year. That game proved to be a swinging point in Union Pines' season as the Vikes went 1-5 over their final six game to finish at 4-7 on the year.
The Vikings had four fumbles lost last week against North Moore, and according to Riggan, did not tackle at an acceptable level.
"Tackling was an area that we focused on throughout this week during practice," he said. "We did lots of tackling drills and I think it will pay off in terms of execution. Ball security and pad levels for our running backs were the other two main areas of emphasis this week. We have to keep our hands on the football.
"If we can get great special teams play, consistently make tackles and stick to the game plan, we will be in good shape."
The kickoff for tonight's game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Wilhoit Stadium. It's also Youth Football Appreciation Night.
All football players, cheerleaders and band members from Crain's Creek and New Century Middle Schools dressed in their school uniforms will be admitted free of charge into the game.
The same offer has also been extended to all Sandhills area Optimist Club footballers and cheerleaders, provided they are wearing their team uniforms.
Contact F.W. Manning II at email@example.com.
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