High Schools

Stevens: How Wake Forest can win 4AA HS football title

tstevens@newsobserver.comDecember 13, 2013 

  • Area high school football finalists

    Area high school football teams in the N.C. High School Athletic Association championship game since 1970:

    Year School Class
    1970 Broughton 14, Charlotte Olympic 04A
    1972Sanford 14, Waynesville Tuscola 14 (tie)3A
    1973Sanford Central 14, Greensboro Smith 64A
    1974Gastonia Ashbrook 13, Sanford Central 124A
    1976Robbinsville 34, Princeton 61A
    1977Charlotte Catholic 42, Clayton 202A
    1979Swain County 28, Clayton 202A
    1979Robbinsville 46, Princeton 61A
    1985Lexington 42, Fuquay-Varina 122A
    1987Garner 40, Charlotte Harding 214A
    1989Clayton 16, Monroe 02A
    1992East Forsyth 28, Northern Durham 214A
    1993Northern Durham 39, West Charlotte 64A
    1998Richmond County 36, Garner 64A
    2009Asheville Reynolds 14, Harnett Central 134A
    2009Belmont South Point 42, South Johnston 283AA
    2010Durham Hillside 40, Davie County 04A
    2010Matthews Butler 44, Wake Forest-Rolesville 04AA
    2011Greensboro Page 35, Garner 214AA
    2012South Iredell 30, Carrboro 272AA

    Note: The NCHSAA did not have state championships in some years in various classifications. The playoffs were stopped at the sectional or regional levels in 4A (1965 and 1966); 3A and 2A (1961 through 1971) and 1A (1961 through 1967).

Wake Forest High can win Wake County’s first state high school football championship since 1987 on Saturday night if it upsets Charlotte’s unbeaten Mallard Creek in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4AA title game at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

Believe it or not, there is no rule that prohibits the county from producing a state football title team. It just doesn’t happen often.

But on Saturday night, two NCHSAA state football titles could come to the area in the same season for the first time because Southern Durham (13-2) is playing for the Class 3AA title, too. The Spartans can win if they overwhelm Shelby Crest (14-1) with offense and speed.

Figuring out how Wake Forest (12-3) can win against Mallard Creek (15-0) is much more problematic. A win by the Cougars would defy one of the most entrenched trends in the NCHSAA – Wake County teams don’t win state football titles.

Broughton won the 4A title in 1970 when rookie coach Dave Riggs led the Caps on an unexpected march through the playoffs that culminated in a 14-0 victory over Charlotte Olympic at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Garner won in 1987 with perhaps the best collection of high school football athletes ever assembled in the county. The Trojans beat Charlotte Harding 40-21 in the finals in Charlotte.

That has been it for Wake County.

Area schools have fared only slightly better.

Northern Durham, under Ken Browning, was a power in the 1980s and 1990s and won the 4A title in 1993 with 39-6 win over West Charlotte.

Durham Hillside fielded one of the area’s best teams ever during its title run in 2010. The Hornets capped the season with a 40-0 4A win over Davie County.

That’s it. The area has about a third of all the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s 4A schools and have won only four big school football titles in the last 40 years or so.

If you include all classes in the area since 1970, the state football title count goes up by a whopping three – Clayton’s 16-0 win over Monroe in the 1989 2A finals and Sanford’s share of the 2A title in 1972 and its 3A crown in 1973.

The history is even worse for the Cougars. The last time Wake Forest played in the finals, Matthews Butler physically pounded the Cougars in a 44-0 loss in 2010. Wake Forest had physically overpowered every team it played that year, but learned in the finals that strength is relative.

Mallard Creek is as strong up front and just as quick as Wake Forest.

But the Cougars may be strong enough to slow down the Mavericks’ running game and may be quick enough to limit big plays.

Wake Forest has to find a way to move the ball and its Wing-T offense may be the edge it needs.

The Wing-T is difficult to simulate in practice and is deceptive. Sometimes quick defenders move very rapidly to the wrong place. If Wake Forest can create some doubt about who has the ball, the Cougars have enough speed to create big plays, even though leading rusher Bryce Love has been slowed the last couple of weeks.

Wake Forest is tough. It has battled and scraped all season. Eight of its games were decided in the closing minutes. The Cougars had to win four straight road games to reach the finals.

They aren’t scared. They aren’t intimidated and they have never quit on coach Reggie Lucas.

Some think that Wake Forest needs a miracle to win, but it doesn’t. The Cougars need to play hard, to limit mistakes and tough it out to the end.

They can do that. They can win.

Regardless, I expect they will leave the field knowing they did all they could do.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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