Leesville Road began the season as a favorite in the Cap Eight 4A, but when the outright champions two years running lost several key players to injuries early in the year, title hopes could have slipped.
The Pride persevered and now has senior Miami recruit Braxton Berrios back in the lineup as it prepares to host Wakefield in the deciding game for the conference title Friday.
Having knocked off title contenders Wake Forest and Millbrook in as many weeks, Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers knows Wakefield will be another test.
Wakefield is a high-powered offense. They always have been, Smothers said. You have to pay attention to (their passing), but if you dont have something to stop their running game, you can be in for a long night, so theyre more balanced than people probably give them credit for. It should be a great game.
While Leesville Road (8-2, 5-1) looks to retain its hold of the Cap Eight 4A crown after going undefeated in the league the past two years, Wakefield (9-1, 5-1) seeks its first outright conference title since the Wolverines went undefeated in the then-Cap Seven 4A during 2005. The teams tied with Wake Forest for the 2010 league title.
Wakefield had some questions coming into the year, having lost standout quarterback Connor Mitch (South Carolina) and wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau (North Carolina) to graduation. Senior quarterback Evan Brabrand stepped in and quickly showed he could lead the Wolverines, as Wakefield won its first seven games.
We heard a lot of talk about Connor being gone and our defense not being very good, Brabrand told The News & Observer last month. Weve had some guys step up and were playing with a little chip on our shoulder.
Wakefield, once the standalone front-runner, fell to Millbrook (7-3, 4-2) last month, setting up a four-way tie for the leagues top spot.
Leesville Road topped Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3) and then Millbrook in its past two games to set up Fridays showdown.
Our conference is tough from top to bottom, Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore said after last weeks loss to Leesville Road. Its a little set back. Weve got goals of winning a state championship here at Millbrook High School. We go in every year wanting to win a conference championship and wanting to win a state championship, so its a minor set back. Were still alive. Were still kicking and I think well be a dangerous out for anybody.
Sanderson (6-4, 4-2), which beat Wake Forest last week, now sits tied with Millbrook for the leagues third-place slot.
The Spartans, under the leadership of first-year coach Ben Kolstad, have made tremendous improvements from a 2-9 record last season.
Sanderson will host Millbrook on Friday.