A huge weekend awaits the football squads at East Wake and Knightdale, as both teams will open up conference play on Friday night.
The Warriors (3-1) will travel to Garner to take on the Trojans (3-1), while the Knights (2-2) are set to host the West Johnston Wildcats (3-1).
It’s a particularly big contest for East Wake. Garner is a yearly powerhouse in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, but Warriors head coach John Poulnott thinks his squad has a chance to contend for the league title this year.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Poulnott promised.
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Poulnott said his players are up for the game and that they are aware of the fact Garner will be out for revenge. Last year, the Warriors ousted the Trojans, 54-40, in a shootout at East Wake.
The Warriors finished with a 4-7 record in 2013 and want to prove that last year’s win over the second-best team in the conference was no fluke.
Teams from around the league will have one eye glued to this game, too. Poulnott describes East Wake and Garner as the two front-runners for the conference.
“The winner will have the upper hand the rest of the way,” Poulnott said, “but we understand there’s a lot of challenges left in front of us against very capable teams.”
Between playmakers like Damontay Rhem, Quincy Jackson and Tripp Harrington at the skill positions, East Wake certainly has the offensive firepower to win by overwhelming Garner’s defense, like they did a year ago.
Don’t expect a carbon-copy sequel, though. Garner is coming off a 48-0 shutout of Cary, while East Wake won a defensive battle with Millbrook, 7-6, two weeks ago.
“We’re a lot better defensively than we were last year,” Poulnott said. “I think the defenses are going to step up and control the game a little bit.”
The stingier team on Friday will win this game and, in turn, will become the team to beat in the conference.
While East Wake is looking to build on early success, Knightdale is forgetting about its .500 record and entering the conference schedule with a clean slate.
“We’re just looking to finish this week 1-0,” head coach Cedric Dargan said.
Knightdale can right its ship by knocking off West Johnston early in conference play, especially if the outcome is anything like the 24-10 statement the Knights made against the Wildcats last September.
Dargan, however, is quick to remind those who draw such a comparison that this year’s team is different than last year’s. The 2014 squad hasn’t yet put in the work the Knights put in last season en route to a conference championship.
“We got to pick up the intensity in practice,” Dargan said. “I let them know that the seniors that we lost from last year won those games.”
The players on this year’s roster can become winners just like the athletes Knightdale lost to graduation, according to Dargan. The first step toward gaining that reputation is to beat West Johnston on Friday.
Like East Wake, Knightdale is making defense a priority this week. Dargan and the Knights have a good reason to be concerned about the Wildcats’ offense: They’ve averaged just a shade under 40 points per game so far this season.
“We feel like if we can keep them under 20, we should be successful,” Dargan said. “If we slow down that offense, we’ll come out on top.”