WAKE FOREST — Reggie Lucas knows his Wake Forest team has to come up with defensive stops to be successful this season, and the Cougars pounced early Friday, spurring their offense with defense and coasting to a 28-14 win over Panther Creek to open the season.
Senior Chris Leonard picked off a pass in the first minute of play, running it back 31 yards to put the Cougars on the board with 11 minutes, 13 seconds remaining. It was his first of three picks for Wake Forest.
“I think anytime you can change the momentum of the game like that it helps the offense out, and to get a pick-six, it put us out first,” Leonard said.
The Cougars stifled Panther Creek, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by sophomore Dexter Lawrence, and scored again when junior Brooks Cunningham snared a 19-yard Mack Moore pass with 4:26 left in the first quarter.
By the end of the first half, junior Bryce Love had broken away for a 44-yard score of his own and the Cougars led 21-0.
“I think all three of our backs did a good job fighting through and staying in it,” Lucas said, referencing the humid conditions on Friday night.
Love, senior Devante Reynolds and junior Jamal Sweet combined for 272 yards rushing.
Panther Creek quarterback Brenden Magner – who finished 19-for-34 passing for 175 yards – struggled early on, missing the target on his first five tries, but began to look more comfortable as the game continued.
Senior Dorrel McClain pounded the ground for the Catamounts, carrying the ball 17 times for 72 yards, but Panther Creek couldn’t string together enough consecutive plays to move down the field until the second half.
McClain eventually put the Catamounts on the board with just more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter with a 13-yard rushing touchdown and scored again on a 44-yard shuffle pass play with 2:27 remaining in the fourth.
The Catamounts controlled the game for much of the third quarter, forcing two three-and-outs on the first two Wake Forest possessions and getting on the board.
“I give Panther Creek credit,” Lucas said. “They have a great coach and they didn’t let up.”
Magner seemed to gain more confidence, taking to the air, but the Cougars regained momentum to start the fourth, recovering a Catamounts fumble on Panther Creek’s first possession.
Leonard grabbed his second interception of the game with just less than eight minutes remaining in the game and Love drove it in two plays later to put the game out of reach.
“Wake Forest makes it hard on you,” Panther Creek coach Sean Crocker said. “They’re a very good team with a lot of good athletes. We lose by two touchdowns, and one was on a turnover. I think if we take care of the ball, we’ll get some good results.”