Leesville Road began the season as a favorite in the Cap Eight, but when the two-time defending outright champions lost several key players to injuries early in the year, the team’s title hopes could have slipped from its grasp.
The Pride persevered and now have senior Miami recruit Braxton Berrios back in the lineup as they prepare to host Wakefield in the deciding game for the conference title Friday.
Having knocked off Wake Forest and Millbrook, two title contenders in as many weeks, Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers knows Wakefield will be another test for the Pride.
“(Wakefield is) a high-powered offense. They always have been,” Smothers said. “You have to pay attention to (their passing), but if you don’t have something to stop their running game, you can be in for a long night, so they’re more balanced than people probably give them credit for. It should be a great game.”
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While Leesville Road (8-2, 5-1 Cap Eight) looks to retain its hold of the Cap Eight crown after going undefeated in the conference the past two years, Wakefield (9-1, 5-1) seeks its first outright conference title since the Wolverines went undefeated in the then-Cap Seven in 2005. The teams tied with Wake Forest for the league title in 2010.
Wakefield had some questions coming into the year, having lost standout quarterback Connor Mitch (South Carolina) and wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau (North Carolina) to graduation. Senior quarterback Evan Brabrand stepped in and quickly showed he could lead the Wolverines, as Wakefield won its first seven contests of the season.
“We heard a lot of talk about Connor being gone and our defense not being very good,” Brabrand told The News & Observer last month. “We’ve had some guys step up and we’re playing with a little chip on our shoulder.”
Wakefield, once the standalone front runner, fell to Millbrook (7-3, 4-2) last month, setting up a four-way tie for the league’s top spot.
Leesville Road topped Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3) and then Millbrook in its last two games to set up Friday’s showdown.
“Our conference is tough from top to bottom,” Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore said after last week’s loss to Leesville Road. “It’s a little set back. We’ve got goals of winning a state championship here at Millbrook High School. We go in every year wanting to win a conference championship and wanting to win a state championship, so it’s a minor set back. We’re still alive. We’re still kicking and I think we’ll be a dangerous out for anybody.”
Sanderson (6-4, 4-2), which beat Wake Forest last week, now sits tied with Millbrook for league’s third-place slot.
The Spartans, under the leadership of first-year coach Ben Kolstad, have made tremendous improvements from a 2-9 record last season.
Sanderson hosts Millbrook on Friday.