Stevens: Wakefield's passing game may be built to beat Garner

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 6, 2012 

Second-round thoughts:

•  Wakefield may be the perfect team to stop Garner’s undefeated season.

The Wolverines are led by Connor Mitch, one of the nation’s top high school passers; and good passers have put up impressive numbers against the Garner defense this year.

Middle Creek’s David Salmon passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns against the Trojans in a 46-29 early season loss in which the Mustangs led 21-20 in the fourth quarter.

Athens Drive’s Jason West passed for 285 yards in last year’s 59-21 loss to Garner, which led 42-7 entering the final period.

Garner traditionally stops the run first and its best pass defense is pressure on the quarterback. The Trojans allow just 128 passing yards per game despite often building big leads and forcing teams to throw.

But Mitch is hard to pressure because he releases the ball so quickly. The guess is Mitch will throw for close to 300 yards, but the Wolverines won’t be able to slow down Garner’s running game.

A Trojan victory sets up a rematch with Middle Creek or a showdown with Leesville Road, which has been No. 2 to Garner in The N&O rankings most of the year. Garner beat Leesville last year in the third round, 42-21, when both teams were undefeated.

•  The last time Leesville Road faced a pass-oriented team the Pride pounded Wakefield, 52-24.

It is hard to imagine Leesville winning that convincingly against Middle Creek. The Mustangs’ only loss was to Garner, but Middle Creek contributed to that defeat with fumbles.

Middle Creek has not been as impressive as Leesville, but has been tested more often.

Leesville coach Chad Smothers says his team has played with a chip on its shoulder because of preseason doubts about its mettle. The chip got bigger when the undefeated Pride was seeded below once-beaten Middle Creek because of the N.C. High School Athletic Association seeding process.

The most exciting player on the field will be Leesville’s Braxton Berrios. He can strike in many ways and at any time.

•  The road doesn’t get any easier for Cleveland, which had to scrape past West Brunswick, 40-33, in the first round. West Brunswick shared the Waccamaw Conference championship, but entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed from the league.

But what a season for the Rams. Aaron Farmer was on the junior varsity at the beginning of the year, but has filled a huge void at quarterback. Isaac Martin, the area’s leading rusher, is out with an injury, but Vincent Dean stepped up last week to rush for 173 yards.

Greenville Conley played like a team on a mission last week in trouncing Erwin Triton 33-0 in a game that wasn’t that close. Two forfeits for using an ineligible player dropped Conley’s seeding down, but the Vikings are looking mighty good.

•  Hooray for Clayton and retiring coach Gary Fowler. The 30-year coaching veteran probably delayed his retirement a few years in an attempt to assemble a team like this year’s club. The Comets have a stable of backs, a physical and strong offensive line and a defense that stops people.

New Hanover is a big test, though.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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