The drought is over: Wake Forest wins football title for Wake County
Posted December 17, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — For the first time since 1987, a Wake County school has been crowned a N.C. High School Athletic Association football state champion.
Wake Forest pitched a shutout on Saturday evening at Carter-Finley Stadium, defeating Page 29-0 to claim the 4-AA state title.
"When you read about and hear about how dominant the west is, and they have been dominant, to have it back in Wake County, Wake County should enjoy this," Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said.
The game started off perfect for the Cougars. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Page's opening drive, Darius Hodge blocked a punt and Jaden McKenzie returned it 10 yards for a touchdown. That gave Wake Forest a 7-0 lead just over one minute into the game.
That was also the start of a monster performance for Hodge, who earned Most Valuable Player honors.
Wake Forest's defense returned to the field for the ensuing offensive possession by Page and the result was similar – a three-and-out. The Pirates were able to get a punt off though, and Wake Forest started the possession on its side of the field. After a 32-yard pass from Chris James to Lex Goodwin and a 21-yard run by Devon Lawrence, Lawrence punched in a touchdown on a three-yard run. Wake Forest led 13-0 after the extra-point failed.
"I thought we played very well defensively, about as well as they could have against Page," Lucas said. "Eventually our offense is going to score, if our defense can keep the score low, our offense can put up enough points."
Towards the end of the first quarter, Jake Campbell intercepted a pass from Page quarterback Will Jones and returned it to the Page 10-yard line.
Wake Forest's offense was unable to score a touchdown on that drive, but Christopher Vidal kicked a 22-yard field goal to push the Wake Forest lead to 16-0 with 10:47 left in the second quarter.
Page was only able to record three first downs in the first half, and as the Pirates prepared to punt away to Wake Forest again, Hodge blocked his second punt of the game. That led to a three-yard touchdown run by Lawrence as Wake Forest took a 23-0 lead into halftime.
"To us, we didn’t feel like the underdogs, we felt we were evenly matched. But I think people did doubt us because of last year," Lawrence said, referencing the Cougars' second round loss to Page in the 2015 state playoffs.
Last year was last year though.
"The difference is the way our kids played, the way they approached the game with confidence, staying focused all week. They were really focused on the game all week and not on the event," Lucas said.
That focus carried over to the second half. Both teams were scoreless in the third quarter, but Wake Forest added one more score in the fourth to give it some cushion.
Goodwin, despite defensive pass interference, collected a 37-yard halfback pass from Lawrence for the final score of the game.
"Just to bring it back to Wake Forest, it’s unexplainable, our fans were behind us all year, people doubted us, and we just overcame. To get revenge, it’s just unexplainable," said Lawrence.
Gill had similar sentiments.
"Being born and raised in Wake Forest, that’s the ultimate thing, something to bring back to the community," he said.
This was the fourth trip to the state championship for Wake Forest, but it is the first state championship in school history.
"It means a lot to me, mainly because we didn’t give up," said Lawrence. "Even though people said things and we made bad plays, we grinded."
The Cougars finish the season with a perfect 16-0 record. Page finishes 14-2 with a loss in the state championship game for the second straight season.
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT