Garners 54-40 loss to East Wake hasnt been mentioned to the team for weeks, but there is a reminder in the two-word chant the team uses in the offensive huddle: No punts!
The Trojans have focused on that goal since that Sept. 27 loss to an East Wake team that went on to lose four of its next six games.
The Trojans two other losses to Cleveland and Knightdale came to 10-win clubs, but East Wake didnt make the playoffs despite physically handling Garner that night.
Garner was missing six starters that night against East Wake two offensive linemen, two cornerbacks and two linebackers. But coach Thurman Leach didnt want to dwell on excuses. He wanted to the team to realize that despite the loss, the club could still achieve most of its goals.
We never discussed the East Wake game, Leach said. We had to move on. Its no disrespect to what East Wake did. We just needed to move forward.
Garner (10-3), which is headed into a matchup with 11-2 Middle Creek in the third round of the 4AA playoffs on Friday, has played to its strengths since that game using an offense that is more explosive than any other in the Triangle area (49.6 points a game).
Its a unit that knows it probably cant expect to win games with scores like 14-13. Its a team that cant afford a lot of possessions that end with punts. Hence, the development of the chant.
It was a wake up call, said assistant head coach Stancil Hines of the loss. It let us know we could get beat by anybody. We found out we werent invincible.
The East Wake game one of four this year in which Garner has allowed an opponent more than 40 points was a key lesson in Garners learning what it needed from its defense every Friday night.
Without many big, experienced defenders, the Trojans must be a unit that comes up with crucial turnovers and just enough defensive stops to help win games.
Those offensive and defense traits shone in the Trojans second-round 63-56 win over Fayetteville Britt on Friday night Britts first playoff loss at home in the schools history.
On offense, Garner piled up more than 500 rushing yards and rode standout tailback Nyheim Hines historic night (454 yards, seven touchdowns) to their highest point total of a season.
Defensively, the Trojans forced two turnovers and held Britt on fourth down twice, including the final minute of the first half to set up an important touchdown that gave Garner a 42-28 halftime lead.
Now, the Trojans are a team playing on Thanksgiving weekend for a fourth straight season, looking for a third straight trip to a regional championship game.