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Cougars battle, but fall at Tarboro 35-14

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TARBORO — Here’s where things stand with regard to the Tarboro Vikings’ utter dominance over 1-A, 2-A and 3-A varsity football programs alike.

Friday’s rescheduled, hard-earned 35-14 victory over 2-A Eastern Plains Conference champion and Edgecombe County rival SouthWest Edgecombe was the first time the Vikings’ starters have required duty in the fourth quarter this season. It was also the first time any of their 11 opponents encroached into double digits.

“This is the first time my boys have seen the fourth quarter since Mount Airy,” Tarboro head coach Jeff Craddock said in flashing back to last year’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1-AA title game, won by the Vikings. “And some of the boys were saying that — ‘Coach, I’m going to tell you, they have my respect. That’s a good, physical, hard-nosed football team.’”

SouthWest, in concluding its regular season at 9-2, trailed 28-14 in the fourth quarter and, after senior Tanazzi Williams recovered a Tarboro fumble, had the ball with 4:33 remaining and a chance to make it a one-possession game. But the Cougars, facing double coverage on junior wide receiving standout Keishon Porter, couldn’t move the ball. Tarboro took over and tacked on the final touchdown with a 7-yard run from quarterback Kimani McDaniels. It clinched the 26th straight victory for Tarboro (11-0), champions of the Coastal Plains Conference and the top-ranked team in the North Carolina Associated Press 1-A poll. SouthWest entered as the No. 9-ranked team in 2-A.

Both teams are expected to carry high seeds into their respective postseason brackets, if not the top in each. SouthWest, in the 2-AA bracket, was projected to be the No. 1 seed in that bracket in the latest release of the HighSchoolOT.com playoff projections. The Cougars, after dropping a non-conference loss, will be able to take a 9-1 record into the seeding process. Brackets will be released Saturday.

“I didn’t think we made plays in the first half that we needed to make, but we made them in the second half,” SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “I was very proud of the way our guys battled in that second half — I think we tied them 14-14 in half number 2. I thought our defense played fairly well in the first half; we just gave up a couple big long runs.”

SouthWest, committed to throwing the football more in 2018 behind senior quarterback Jayden Lewis, took its shots deep in Viking Stadium.

Passing the ball a season-high 27 times, Lewis threw three interceptions in the first half trying to get the ball to Porter. His first interception came on a deep ball down the sideline, only to have Tarboro cornerback Keon Caudle swoop in and take it away in the end zone.

Caudle’s second interception resulted in points after he returned it to the SouthWest 8-yard line. That set up McDaniels’ 6-yard pass to Caudle in the right corner of the end zone, giving the hosts a 21-0 lead following the PAT from Layton Dupree.

Tarboro, which ran for 361 yards, scored on its first play from scrimmage with a 68-yard sprint by Clifton Joyner Jr. and tacked on a 52-yard score from fullback Jacquez Edge in the second quarter.

Trailing 21-0 at halftime, the Lewis-to-Porter connection was responsible for a pair of touchdowns in the second half. Lewis, whose 215 yards passing allowed him to become SouthWest’s first 1,000-yard passer in the dual Cobb era, threw a 10-yard strike to Porter to trim Tarboro’s lead to 21-7 in the third quarter.

Porter and his 6-foot-4 frame went up to grab his second TD in the fourth quarter, out-jumping Tarboro’s Kendarius Jenkins on a 13-yard reception in the corner. That pulled SouthWest to within 28-14 and gave it two possessions to cut the margin further, but a pair of ineffective possessions left the Cougars unable to capitalize on two of their three defensive stops in the second half.

Porter, fighting through double teams at times, finished with 10 receptions for 158 yards. 

“They really put people out there on him,” Cobb said. “We were trying to guess when we could get him the ball, but I was proud of our guys tonight.”

For Tarboro, Edge finished with 136 yards on 12 carries. Joyner tallied 113 yards on 14 touches. Senior Jelan Smith led SouthWest with nine tackles, one coming behind the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve got a great football team,” Cobb said. “We won our own championship this year, and I think this is a great tool for us and a great film for us to check ourselves and edit ourselves. If we can do that, I think we’re going to make some noise in the 2-A (actually 2-AA) playoffs.”

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