A big night for high school football playoffs

Long-debated battle between Wakefield and Garner finally will take place for real

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 9, 2012 

Wakefield High quarterback Connor Mitch pretty well summed up Friday’s showdown between his Wolverines and undefeated Garner.

“I don’t really gotta say much,” Mitch tweeted on Thursday.

The possible matchup between the two high school football powerhouses has been the subject of much talking, tweeting and other communications, trashy and otherwise, for more than a year. There is not much need for talking now.

The two teams, so different in style yet similar in results, play Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the second-round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs at Garner’s Trojans Stadium.

Garner (12-0) has an explosive offense that relies on speed and power. The playbook is filled with plays – traps, counters, sweeps – that the Trojans have used for more than 30 years. They can pass, but for years the program’s success has revolved around running the ball and throwing just enough to prevent defenses from totally committing to stopping the run.

Wakefield (10-1) fills the air with passes. Mitch has passed for 4,047 yards and 58 touchdowns this season and four of his receivers have more than 500 yards in receptions, led by Jordan Fieulleteau with 1,347 yards.

“We’ve got to play great coverage and put pressure on the quarterback,” said Garner coach Nelson Smith. “If we let him run through his progressions, he is going to tear us up just like he has everybody else. We’ve got to get pressure and we’ve got to disguise where it is coming from.”

The Wolverines’ offense is designed to keep defenses reeling.

“On offense we need to execute and move the football at tempo to keep their defense off balance,” Wakefield coach Rod Sink said. “On defense, we need to find a way to slow down their running attack and not give up the big passing play.”

Undefeated Leesville Road (11-0) wants to impose its running game on Middle Creek (11-1) in another 4AA second-round game. Leesville, which reached the state quarterfinals in 2011, runs for 329 yards per game, dominating the clock and wearing down opponents.

“We’re not going over there thinking that we can pass for 300 and run for 100,” Leesville coach Chad Smothers said. “That’s not who we are. This time of year, you try to do what you do best.

“This week a bunch of good teams play a bunch of good teams. Next week, really good teams play really good teams and you’re getting close to having a shot to play for it all.”

Middle Creek has one of the area’s most balanced attacks, led by quarterback David Salmon (2,789 passing yards) and a running game that has piled up 2,462 yards.

“Middle Creek is incredibly balanced and has great athletes all over the field,” Smothers said. “We want to hang in there with them, keep executing and moving the chains. Hopefully, we can keep them off balance a little.”

The winners of Garner-Wakefield and Middle Creek-Leesville Road will play next week.

The NCHSAA subdivides each classification into big schools and smaller schools in football and Clayton travels to New Hanover in the smaller 4A division.

“The key for us is pretty obvious,” Clayton coach Gary Fowler said. “We have to run the ball and dominate the clock. New Hanover spreads the field and throws it around, but we have to keep their offense off the field.

“We think New Hanover is going to have eight or nine guys on the line on defense and we have to find some little creases to run. That’s what we have done all year and that’s what we have to do against New Hanover.”

In a battle of unbeaten 3AA teams, Wilson Hunt plays at Cardinal Gibbons in a 3AA game while Cleveland is at home against Greenville Conley.

Gibbons is without quarterback standout Shawn Stankavage, who was injured in last week’s 57-52 win over Gray’s Creek.

Chapel Hill plays at Northern Guilford in another 3AA game while South Johnston goes to Orange in 3A.

In the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association eight-man finals, two-time defending champion Word of God plays at Courtland (Va.) Southampton Academy. North Raleigh Christian is at Arden Christ School in the NCISAA Division II semifinals.

TSTEVENS: 919-829-8910

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