Great high school football teams don’t have many close games, but often the difference in a disappointing season and a good one is the ability to find a way to win close games.
Winning the close ones has been particularly important in recent years in the Tri-Nine 4A and Cap Eight 4A, where the league races often have been determined by a key matchup.
Wake Forest-Rolesville, which had a five-year streak of winning or sharing the Cap Eight crown stopped last year, has been consistently good at winning close games.
The Cougars have won five of their six league games decided by seven or less points during the last five years. Overall, Wake Forest is 12-3 in the close games since 2006.
“I don’t think that you can say that we do anything special to prepare for close games,” Wake Forest-Rolesville coach Reggie Lucas said. “You want to be in shape so that you can be strong in the fourth quarter or in an overtime and we really work on playing hard until the final whistle.” We don’t want our players to ever give up.
“But I’m other teams do that too. One thing we do is to try to prepare the kids for every game just like we know it is going to come down to the final snap. We tell them to expect a tight game every time we play.”
Fuquay-Varina has won or shared the Tri-Nine title in six of the past seven seasons and has won 10 or more games during the six last seasons. Those teams have been helped by winning 11 of 18 games that were within eight points or less.
The Bengals are close to being even more dominate. They had lost only five league games during the last five years before Friday night’s 52-21 shellacking by Middle Creek. Including that loss, four of the Bengals six league losses in the last five years have been by a total of five points.
But the area king of the close game is Clayton. More than half of its games have been decided by eight points or less during the past five seasons. In 2008 and 2009, 15 of the Comets’ 23 games came down to the final possession of the game.
“I knew we had played a bunch of close games, but I had no idea it was that many,” said Clayton coach Gary Fowler, whose club dropped a pair of close games to Cardinal Gibbons and Fuquay-Varina before beating South Johnston last week, 42-14.
The Comets have played 63 games during the past five years, including three this season, and 33 essentially have come down to the final whistle.Thirteen of the games have been determined by three or less and nine by two points or less.
Fowler said that some seasons his teams have had to rely on its defense and he went into the game expecting the game to be very close.
“There have been plenty of games that we’ve gone into knowing that we needed to scrap for anything we could offensively and to play great defense,” he said. “In those games we couldn’t do risky things on offense.
“The game plan was to play great defense, keep it close and try to find a way to win the game in the fourth quarter. There have been years when we couldn’t match up personnel-wise with teams like Garner and Southeast Raleigh. They’ve had lots of Division I players and we’ve had one in about 10 years.”
Clayton has played those league powers tough several times, losing to Garner 42-13 38-10, 14-13, 28-20 and 15-7 and to Southeast 38-26, 23-14, 21-10, 14-9 and 7-0 during the last five years.
Wake Forest’s Lucas said coaches never know how their teams will react when it is time to try to pull out a win.
“We haven’t had a close game this year,” said Lucas, whose 3-0 club has won by an average of 39.7 points. “You think you know how a team will handle adversity and how they will respond in the closing minutes, but as a coach, I know I don’t know.”
Clayton has gone 12-21 in the games decided by eight points or less and is 26-37 overall during the period. If the Comets had averaged just three more points per game and scored them in the right places, their record overall record would be 46-16.
Clayton was 5-7 in 2011, but were 11 points from 8-4. The Comets were 7-6 in 2010, but 15 points from 9-4. Clayton was 9-5 in 2005 with three wins by a combined nine points.