SOUTHERN PINES — The Wake Forest Cougars will get to play in the third round of the state 4AA playoffs next week, and they have their defense to thank for it.
On a rare night when the Cougars’ offense just could not find its explosiveness, the defense had to take charge and make the big plays. It did just that in a 17-10 win against Pinecrest, which fell to 11-2 with the loss.
Wake Forest (10-3) never trailed in the game, but had to make one last stand. Patriots sophomore quarterback Christian Ledbetter led his team on one last drive that began on the Pinecrest 24-yard line. It ended, however, in the closing minutes when Wake Forest safety Nic Deluke stepped in front of a Ledbetter pass and intercepted the ball inside the Cougars’ 10-yard line. Deluke returned it to the 38, leaving just 53 seconds in the game for the Cougars to run off the clock.
Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said the defense atoned for a 57-yard Ledbetter run that set up a touchdown. Also, Deluke made up for a fourth-down pass play that Ledbetter completed to keep the final drive alive.
“Other than that, the defense played outstanding,” Lucas said. “I’m proud of the interception because he was hurting a little bit because that was his man that caught the ball on the fourth and 10 over the middle. He’s a senior, he sucked it up, bounced back and made that play.”
The Cougars started strong as Bryce Love had a 43-yard carry in an opening drive that ended with him scoring on a 12-yard run.
From that point on, though, it was a defensive battle on both sides.
“The front is the backbone of our defense and if we’re going to have success they’ve got to play well,” Lucas said of ends Jaylan Thorpe and Xachary Gill and tackles Antwain Terry and Dexter Lawrence. “And our linebackers – Norman Cade, Javon Felder and Bryson Hester – were outstanding. They went out as three captains and played like captains on the field.
“And they’re not 11-1 coming into this game for no reason,” Lucas said of Pinecrest. “They’ve got a great coaching staff. They studied up and they were ready for us.”
Pinecrest got on the board on a 27-yard field goal by Jackson Maples.
In the second quarter, Zack Coates kicked a 25-yard field goal for the Cougars. They took a 17-3 lead with 2:32 left in the half when cornerback Kendall Massey scooped up a backwards Pinecrest pass and went 27 yards for the score.
Pinecrest’s third-quarter touchdown drive started at the Patriots’ 39-yard line with Ledbetter getting loose on an option play for a run down to the 4-yard line. Three plays later, he edged into the end zone to end the scoring.
“And I think our Cougar fans did a great job coming down here to support us,” Lucas said. “It looked like our side was full and I’m very proud of the support we’re getting from everybody.”