RALEIGH — The dream run ended for Wake Forest’s football team on the soggy turf at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday night.
The Cougars, the 12th-seeded team in the Eastern bracket, had run the table in the East – beating Millbrook in four overtimes in the third round and edging Middle Creek 24-23 in the Eastern finals to advance to the state championship against Charlotte powerhouse Mallard Creek.
The magic ran out against the Mavericks, who came into the game with a 15-0 record. Ranked No. 1 in the state all season, Mallard Creek was ranked nationally in four polls, topping out at No. 11.
The Mavericks looked the part in the championship game, rolling to a 59-21 victory on a cold, rainy night.
For Wake Forest to hang with the Mavericks, it was going to take near perfection.
The Cougars (12-4) never gave themselves a chance. Two fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt paved the way to a 38-7 halftime lead for Mallard Creek. It was simply a hole too deep to climb out of.
The loss stung, no doubt about it. But Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas and his players knew that had done something special to make the run to the final.
“I’m pleased,” Lucas said. “They say I don’t smile a lot, but I really have enjoyed this group. At halftime, I told them to come out and don’t give up, don’t quit. And I was so proud to see them playing hard in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter when the score was getting out of hand. They are a great group of kids. I am so proud of them.”
Wake Forest scored two late touchdowns after Mallard Creek built a 59-7 lead – scoring on a 15-yard pass from Mack Moore to Devante Reynolds with 3:45 left in the game and on a 20-yard fumble recovery return by Kendall Massey with 2:17 left.
It was something to remember for the Cougars from a game that was tough from the outset. More than that, Wake Forest had a playoff run to remember – one that made them the lowest seed ever to reach the state final.
“We had a rough stretch in our conference,” Lucas said. “When we got to the playoffs, we kind of let it go … refocused. I not only take my hat off to the kids, but the coaching staff did a great job as well.
“It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Wake Forest came into the game with a run-oriented attack, but its Wing-T offense never got going against Mallard Creek’s quick, athletic defense.
Junior Bryce Love, who averaged almost 11 yards per carry and came into the game with 1,914 yards, was held to five yards on four carries.
“They were a real good team, fundamentally sound,” Love said. “You could tell they watched a lot of film. We made a lot of mistakes early, but at the end of the day I love my team, love my coaches. It was a real blessing to be here.
“Not many teams can say they made it this far. (The playoff run) was special.”
Norman Cade, a senior linebacker who was named the defensive player of the game for the Eastern champions, also said the season was special one – especially for the Cougars’ seniors.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s been a good season for us,” Cade said. “We worked hard. It was very special because everybody thought we were the underdog (all the way through the playoffs). But we showed everybody we could make it.”