A month ago, Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas didnt give the number beside his teams name on the NCHSAA 4AA playoff bracket much consideration.
The Cougars, seeded 12th in the East region, faced an uphill battle from the first round of the postseason, but Lucas knew his team was capable of overcoming a series of road games against higher-seeded opponents to stay alive.
Wake Forest (11-3, 5-3 Cap Eight) has done just that, rolling to the regional final after taking a four-overtime win over Millbrook last week to set up Fridays state semifinal match with No. 2 Middle Creek (12-2).
I told them there wasnt a 12 seed, Lucas said. There wasnt a team that we were gong to face that we could not win against.
Wake Forest began the year on a tear. The Cougars confidence grew as the team swept its nonconference schedule, including a 33-23 win against a Wilimington Hoggard team that would go on to the third round of the 4A playoffs.
The real turning point for us was us winning at Hoggard, Lucas said. The fact that our kids were able to go and compete against a tough opponent and win gave them even more confidence.
Winning on the road has become a necessity for a Cougars team that hasnt played on its home field in more than a month.
After that September win in Wilmington, the Cougars entered conference play in a Cap Eight field that featured six eventual playoff teams. Perennially a top team in the Cap Eight, Wake Forest dropped three league games, landing the team fifth in the conference.
The three losses were the most the program has had in the regular season since 2006, but Lucas said the team didnt panic or try to make major changes to its schemes.
The losses were by a total of 12 points, and the Cougars were in a position to win each game.
As a team, we talked about those three losses and we felt like we beat ourselves, so the guys handled those three losses pretty well, Lucas said. The guys really put the regular season behind them and focused on each round of the playoffs.
The result is that Wake Forest is back in the regional final for the first time since 2010, when the Cougars eventually fell in the state championship to Butler.
Im more proud of these guys for going out and being successful, Lucas said. After the last few years losing so many players a lot of people didnt give this group a chance.