Spring. Fall. It doesn’t seem to matter.
Regardless of when the high school football season is contested in North Carolina, there’s a good chance Tarboro will finish it by playing for a state championship.
The Vikings will make their fifth straight appearance in a final on Saturday when they play Mitchell County for the 1A crown at Kenan Stadium. Coach Jeff Craddock’s top-seeded team has won three of the past four titles and seven overall, including a 25-7 win against East Surry just seven months ago.
Tarboro, which beat Pender 22-12 in the Eastern Regional final last Friday, is one of only two teams to make it back to a state championship game this fall after playing for a title last May as part of a 2020 season postponed until last spring because of COVID-19.
Cardinal Gibbons, which lost to Grimsley, will get another shot at bringing home a trophy in the 4A final Saturday against Chambers at Carter-Finley Stadium. J.H Rose will play Dudley in the 3A game in Chapel Hill while Wallace-Rose Hill takes on Shields for the 2A title in Raleigh in Saturday’s other state finals.
Titles will be contested in only four classifications this season, down from eight in previous years.
The more things change, though, the more they stay the same for Tarboro.
This year’s team has reeled off 13 straight wins since an opening week 12-0 loss to Rocky Mount back on Aug. 19. It has outscored its opponents by a whopping 555-142 margin.
Despite that disparity, it took until the final four minutes of last week’s victory against Pender for the Vikings to earn their latest title shot.
They took a 14-12 lead when Joshua Bradley tackled a Patriots ballcarrier in the end zone. Running back Tobias Joyner then sealed the victory with an 11-yard touchdown run three minutes later.
Mitchell County (13-2) earned a shot at its first state championship by beating Robbinsville 34-21 in a rematch of a second round playoff game last spring.
Quarterback Ty Turbyfill rushed for 207 yards and threw for 93 on 8 of 11 passing while scoring all five of the Mountaineers’ touchdowns in the game. Dalton Hollifield intercepted a pass to lead a defense that held Robbinsville to just a single touchdown through the first three quarters before holding on to clinch the second state final appearance in school history.
Mitchell County lost to Wallace-Rose Hill in the 2015 1A final.
That title was one of seven Wallace-Rose Hill has won in its history, with the most recent coming in 2017. Now classified as 2A, the Bulldogs (13-2) are one win away from championship No. 8.
They advanced to Saturday’s title game by beating Princeton 34-25 in the Eastern Region final. Kanye Roberts rushed for 355 yards and five touchdowns as Wallace-Rose Hill broke open a tight game by scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Like the Bulldogs, their opponent Shelby is no stranger to state championships. The Golden Lions (14-1) have won six 2A and 2AA titles since 2013 and 11 overall.
After falling short of a final in the spring, Shelby made it back this season by unseating defending 2A champion Reidsville last Friday. It did by putting its opponent away early, exploding for 39 points in the second quarter behind a 261-yard, two-touchdown passing performance by quarterback Daylin Lee.
The 3A game between Dudley (14-1) and Rose (11-4) is a matchup between a dominant team and a hot team.
The West Regional champion Panthers from Greensboro have outscored their opponents by a whopping 682-87 margin this season. That includes a 187-20 edge since the start of the playoffs, capped by a 38-0 whitewash of South Point last week. R.J. Baker ran for 122 yards and four touchdowns in the game.
The East champion Ramparts from Greenville, meanwhile, got off to a shaky start by losing their first three games. But they have caught fire since, winning their last three playoff games on the road — earning their trip to Chapel Hill with a 35-28 win against Jacksonville. NC State commit Michael Allen ran for 154 yards and four touchdowns.
For Raleigh’s Cardinal Gibbons (13-2), the 4A final represents a shot at redemption after a 28-8 championship game loss to Grimsley in May. The Crusaders will face a tough task against Chambers, which won the 4AA title in May in its final season under its former name, Vance.
Cardinal Gibbons beat defending 4AA finalist Rolesville 36-28 for the Eastern Region title last Friday while the Cougars from Charlotte (14-1) won the West by beating 35-21. Saturday’s showdown is a rematch from the season’s opening week, a game won by Chambers 35-29 behind a pair of rushing touchdowns from Dylan Smothers.