Vikings Face Strong Opponent in Cardinal Gibbons
Entering week three with a record of 1-1, Union Pines head football coach Ryan Riggan knows his Viking squad faces a tough task tonight against Cardinal Gibbons in Raleigh for some nonconference pigskin action.
The Crusaders feature a roster containing 33 seniors out of a total of 63 players, for a team that won the 3-A Carolina Conference championship last season. Overall, Cardinal Gibbons finished its 2011 campaign with a record of 11-2, making it to the third round of the state playoffs, where it was eliminated in a tough-played 31-17 loss to Hunt High.
This season the Crusaders are 2-0, having defeated 4-A Cary 15-12 last week and 4-A Clayton 20-15 in week one. Both games were on the road as the Crusaders — currently ranked 21st statewide and eighth in the 3-A division according to the MaxPreps.com Freeman rankings — host the Vikings in their home opener tonight.
“Cardinal Gibbons is a tremendous opponent,” said Riggan. “They are very skilled and have done a great job building their program. They have a lot of experience and return one of the best backs in North Carolina in Ben Grazen. For anyone who has never been to Gibbons to see a game, it is an awesome atmosphere for football.
“Their ability to make a bad play or two, forget about it and then buckle down and make another good one is a thing that really impresses me about them on film. They also play really well as a unit and are very aggressive on defense with lots of speed — they are extremely fast on both sides of the ball, actually.”
The Crusaders have been running the ball exceptionally well this season, according to Riggan, and will pose the biggest threat to Union Pines if the Vikings’ outside defenders lose containment.
“They have several guys capable of taking the ball to the house,” said Riggan. “So you have to stay outside if that’s your job on defense and make sure to turn them back to where you have help.
“Defensively they are very large up front. They play fast and it’s easy to see that they’re a well-coached team. The secondary can run and do a pretty good job of tackling in the open field.”
Union Pines is coming off a 33-6 win last week against county rival North Moore that saw the 3-A Vikings intercept four passes. The first week of the season, Union Pines lost 21-0 on the road to 3-A Southwestern Randolph.
“This week of practice has been really good,” said Riggan. “We got a ton of rain on Tuesday and that gave us a chance to really focus on ball handling and not turning the ball over. Ball security will be a big key this week. Our enthusiasm at practice was good, and the kids pushed themselves every day.”
Because of Cardinal Gibbons’ ability to score on any play, coupled with a formidable and experienced defensive unit, Riggan stressed that Union Pines has to take care of the football and not make costly mistakes via penalties, especially on offense.
“We have to hang on to the ball,” said Riggan. “Our three keys to being competitive this week are ball security, sustaining long drives on offense, and keeping everything in front of us through containment on defense.
“I am very concerned about their ground game. Grazen can really cause a ton of damage on the edge, and we must do everything we can in an effort to corral him.”
Kickoff for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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