WINSTON SALEM – Being denied a state championship isn’t something the Tarboro Vikings had experienced over the past three years, but Saturday the team had its championship run come to an end at the hands of the East Lincoln Mustangs, 24-20.
The loss in Tarboro’s fifth consecutive state title game appearance, came before 4,273 spectators at Wake Forest University’s BB&T Field here.
A pair of fumbles lost inside the East Lincoln 10-yard line and three failed runs for extra points hampered the effort, although Tarboro had a drive going late in the game that stalled out when a fourth-down run was stopped.
The loss puts an end to a great run by the Vikings in the Class 2-A ranks, because they will drop down to Class 1-A next season as part of conference realignments.
The biggest shock surrounding the loss was for the players who had been a part of the program the past four years and had experienced nothing but winning.
Tarboro defensive end and Ohio State commit Tyquan Lewis was visibly upset. He walked off the field after the final horn and then back onto the field for the post game presentations with his head hung down. His friend and teammate, Donnell Arnold, grabbed Lewis and tried to comfort him as tears rolled down both sides of his face. Arnold has been a part of the Vikings run as well, but hasn’t played the past two season because of a nagging knee injury. He did dress out Saturday for the first time in two seasons. He was also visibly upset, because his teammates and family had lost something that they knew belonged to them.
Lewis was at a loss for words about the defeat to begin with, but after a few minutes of silence, he said this loss has left a very bad taste in mouth.
“The loss hurts so bad because of all of the hard work we have put in to this season,” Lewis said. “We have to keep our heads up high though because we accomplished great things while we were here.”
Another player reacting was senior Travonne Marshall. This was his first time playing on the big stage, because he transferred to Tarboro over the summer. Marshall couldn’t believe the final score because it was his first — and only — loss as a Viking player.
“It meant a lot for me and my teammates to get to the championship game because we worked very hard for this and we lost just by a couple of inches,” Marshall said. “It really hurts ... it just really hurts.”
As time wound down, Tarboro drove towards the East Lincoln goal line, only to come up short on fourth down. Watching East Lincoln run out the clock was something Marshall never could have imagined during his season at Tarboro.
“I didn’t get upset until I got off the field and into the locker room,” Marshall said. “This will be my last football game as a high school player and it just hurts so bad to go out like this.”
The Vikings run began in 2008 when they put an impressive season together after head coach Jeff Craddock instilled discipline and structure in the program. Craddock made sure if a player was going to play for him, they were going to commit to the program 110 percent. The previous season, Tarboro had a subpar year and lost in the first round of the playoffs and finished 7-5.
After that loss, the program took that turn and headed for what most people call greatness. Over the five-year period, the Vikings made it to the state championship game every year and compiled an impressive 72-6 record.