Vikings Ground Eagles
A Braxton Ross rushing score in the waning seconds put Union Pines over the top for good Friday in Biscoe.
In a hard-nosed, pressure-packed pigskin battle between Union Pines and the homestanding East Montgomery Eagles, the Viking junior quarterback slammed his way into the end zone on a 1-yard keeper for six points with 18.7 seconds left on the clock.
The run gave Union Pines a 27-24 lead and capped off a 16-play, 69-yard drive that started with 6:01 left in the tilt.
Senior A.J. Ritter carried the ball on the opening six plays of Union Pines’ final drive, racking up three first downs and 32 yards. Ross had four rushes for 32 yards during the drive, including the one-yard game-winning touchdown.
Place kicker Evan Lindsay split the uprights on the kick for his fourth successful extra point kick of the night to bring the game to its final 28-24 tally.
When the buzzer sounded Union Pines’ entire side of the stadium — fans, players, cheerleaders and coaches alike — erupted in a collective explosion of joy.
Clearly, the nonconference victory over 1-A East Montgomery (2-2) was a major one for the Vikings (2-2), as they shift to the crucial 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference portion of their season starting next week.
“This win was a big one for our program,” said Union Pines head coach Ryan Riggan. “Our guys did a great job tonight. They have worked hard and to bounce back after the kind of game we had last week — I think it says a lot about their character.
“Now we just have to keep pressing forward, getting better and build off this.”
Last week, the Vikes fell 44-0 to Cardinal Gibbons in Cameron, as the visiting Crusaders completely dominated the contest.
In Friday’s foray, Union Pines wasted little time moving the football, opening the night with a sustained 13-play scoring drive that spanned 74 yards. A Ross toss to Parris Manning for a 13-yard touchdown capped off the march, as the Vikings took a 7-0 lead with 6:24 left to play in the opening quarter.
The Eagles then closed the half with a touchdown and a safety to take a 9-7 lead at intermission.
That margin could have been larger for the home team, but Viking defensive back Derek Yang yanked down an interception to halt a drive at the Union Pines’ three, with 6:13 left in the second period. East Montgomery also missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt with less than a minute left in the first half.
Union Pines opened the second half on defense, grabbing some momentum when Kyle Rakers sacked the Eagles’ quarterback on the first play from scrimmage. The play eventually led to a punt, as Union Pines took over at its own 35.
Two plays later, Ritter raced to paydirt on a 31-yard romp as the Vikes regained the lead at 14-9 with 8:38 left to play in the quarter.
As play entered the final quarter, Union Pines led 21-15 thanks to a 66-yard rushing score by Ross at the 4:34 mark of the third frame. The junior signal caller had 98 yards on five carries in the second half and totaled 110 yards on the ground for the game.
However, the Eagles forged on, scoring nine straight points for a second time in the clash, with a safety followed by a an eight-play, 52-yard touchdown drive that ended with a five-yard score on fourth and five.
With the extra point, East Montgomery took a 24-21 lead with 6:11 remaining on the clock, setting the stage for Union Pines’ dramatic game-winning drive.
Ritter finished the night with 87 hard-fought yards on 22 carries, including 11 attempts on the Vikings’ final possession.
“I feel amazing right now,” said the senior captain. “The offensive line did a great job blocking — Will Apple, Josh Huskey, Connor Dull, Grayson Johnson and Tyler Southern — all those guys battled, got the job done and opened the holes in front of me down the stretch.”
The Vikings had two starting players back in action Friday, after missing one game each. Senior LB/RB Shakeem McRae was back on both sides of the ball after a high ankle sprain and Rakers returned after a shoulder injury.
“This one feels so good — it is just amazing,” said McRae. “As a defense we started off sort of slow but went in at halftime, looked at what we needed to do and executed in the second half. I am proud of this unit for that.
“We worked hard for this all week and came out determined to leave it all out there on the field tonight.”
On the night, Rakers served as the Vikings’ punter, completing a key pass on a fake that moved the chains during an eventual scoring drive. He also had seven tackles, including two sacks on defense from his outside linebacker position.
“Like Shakeem said,”echoed Rakers, “you want to come back and be with your team. In the second quarter, it started hurting again but that was not going to stop me — I really wanted to be out here and I really wanted to get stuff done so I could do my part to help us get a win.
“Now that we have it, it feels absolutely great. It all comes down to practice — we worked really hard this week and it actually paid off.”
The aspect that most impressed Riggan about his team’s performance was the solid effort they gave.
“The Eagles have some players over there that can make plays,” said Riggan. “This was a game that both teams definitely wanted, and I got the impression they (East Montgomery) thought they would beat us by jumping out early and making us roll over.
“Our guys did a great job in answering the call tonight, rising to a challenge and just playing hard. They played a hard 48-minute game tonight, without many errors, and we need to play with that same passion and degree of execution next week, because we face another challenge against a good, big and fast Overhills team.”
Union Pines hosts the Overhills Jaguars (0-4) next week in the Vikings CFVC opener on Homecoming night at Woodrow Wilhoit Stadium in Cameron
“This is huge for us going into conference (next week),” said Riggan. “Momentum is as key in football as it is in anything, and we have some guys that walked off the field with a pretty good feeling about themselves tonight.”
Union Pines 7 0 14 7 — 28
East Montgomery 7 2 6 9 — 24
Scoring: (UP) Manning 13–pass from Ross (Lindsay kick); (EM) Santrel Durham 75-run (Cody Williams kick); (EM) Safety; (UP) Ritter 31-run (Lindsay kick); (EM) Chris Cagle 16-run (failed conversion); (UP) Ross 66-run (Lindsay kick); (EM) Safety; (EM) C.J. Robinson 9-pass from Avery Jackson (Williams kick); (UP) Ross 1-run (Lindsay kick).
Team stats: Rushing – UP 45-229, 3TD; EM 39-283; Passing – UP 3-8 34yds TD; EM 4-9, 61yds TD; First Downs – UP 12; EM 13; Penalties –UP 3-30; EM 8-65; All-Purpose (Total) – UP 281; EM 411. Fumbles/Lost – UP 2/0; EM 4/0; Individual stats: Rushing – (UP) Ross 8-110, 2TD, Ritter 22-87 TD, John McMillan 8-19; (EM) Durham 14-127 TD, Adam Galloway 5-71, Cord Steele 8-61, Cagle 6-55 TD; Passing – (UP) Ross 2-7-11,TD; (EM) Jackson 3-8 , 61 TD; Receiving – (UP) Ethan Benitez 1-22; (EM) Robinson 2-40,TD.
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