This is it.
The Granite Bears have had their eyes on a state championship since day one. The moniker #ringchasin was sprawled across the giant banner that the team ran through when facing rival East Surry.
Nearly four months after defeating Starmount to open the 2017 season, only one team stands between Mount Airy and their championship aspirations.
That team happens to be the top-ranked team in the class, the Tarboro Vikings.
This marks the 12th time Mount Airy has competed in a state championship. The Bears holds a 7-4 record in championship games dating back to 1935.
The championship winning teams and their respective divisions: 1935, 1938 (State Class B); 1942, 1946, 1948 (State Class A); 1968 (Western 3-A); and 2008 (State 1-A).
The Bears enter the championship undefeated for the seventh time. The most recent time this happened was 2009, when Mount Airy was 15-0 before losing in the title game.
Tarboro High School has won four state championships and been state runner-up twice. The Vikings competed in the 2A State Championship game five years in a row from 2008-2012, winning three times.
2010 was the only time in school history that the Vikings went undefeated en route to a championship.
How did we get here?
Both Mount Airy and Tarboro enter the championship game with perfect 14-0 records.
Following a first round bye, Tarboro outscored their next three opponents 154-17. The top-ranked Vikings downed 8-seed Riverside, 5-seed West Montgomery, and 2-seed John A. Holmes.
The Vikings scored at least 48 points in each playoff game. Additionally, no opponent put more than seven points on the board against Tarboro.
The Bears also received a first-round bye after their 11-0 regular season.
Mount Airy defeated 8-seed Polk County and 4-seed Bessemer City by 22 points apiece. The Granite Bears earned their spot in the championship game by defeating 6-seed Murphy 49-35.
Tale of the tape
Both Mount Airy and Tarboro have been scoring juggernauts this season. The Viking offense puts up an incredible 52.4 points a game.
The Vikings scored at least 42 points in 13 games this season, including five games of at least 60 points.
Mount Airy outscored opponents 636 to 170 this season. In the 14-game winning streak, the Bears 37 or more points in all but one game. This includes five games of scoring at least 50 points.
The Bears and Vikings are only separated by 7.1 yards of total offense per game, with the edge going to Mount Airy. It’s how they achieve their yards that separates the two teams.
Mount Airy plays with a balance of passing and rushing. The Bears average 257.3 YPG rushing and 148.4 YPG passing. Quarterback Ian Holder leads the team with 211.1 total yards, consisting of 134.4 YPG passing and 76.7 YPG rushing.
Holder has thrown for 23 touchdowns and ran in 13. Holder became the second Bear to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in the game against Murphy.
The rushing leader for the Bears is Johnathon Smith. Smith averages 105.5 YPG rushing and 11.6 points per game. Smith was the Northwest 1A Athletic Conference leader in rushing yards.
Donavon Greene leads Mount Airy in YPG receiving with 76.4. Greene has 15 of the team’s 25 receiving touchdowns.
The Vikings are primarily a rushing team, averaging 355.6 YPG rushing to their 43.1 YPG receiving.
Tarboro quarterback Tae Randolph has thrown for just 582 yards on 40 attempts this season. The Vikings only threw for more than 100 yards in a game twice this season.
The Vikings’ have a huge arsenal of running backs at their disposal. Despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher on the team, three Vikings have more than 800 yards rushing on the season.
Rushing touchdowns have been scored by 15 different Viking players, including three with 13 or more: Jaquez Edge, Clifton Joyner Jr., and Deontae Williams.
Williams leads the team with 100 carries.
Both Mount Airy and Tarboro have limited their opponents on the scoreboard.
Mount Airy has allowed just over 12 points per game this season. The Bears have allowed 20 or more points only four times this season and have three shutouts.
Only two of Tarboro’s 2017 opponents have scored double digits. The Vikings have six shutouts and allowed an average of just over four points.
Phillip Willoughby is the Viking’s leader in tackles with a 9.6 average. Not far behind at 8.8 is the Granite Bears’ leading tackler, Benjamin Reales.
This is the main event.
Two teams that were atop the 1A rankings all year finally go head-to-head to find out who is the state’s best.
Mount Airy looks for title number eight, the second during coach Kelly Holder’s tenure. Tarboro looks to capture title number five.
Tarboro and Mount Airy collide in the NCHSAA 1AA Championship game Saturday, December 9, at 4:00pm at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith