Up by one late in the fourth quarter, East Wake was stopped at the one-yard line on a fourth-and-goal try, giving visiting Millbrook the ball back with 99 yards to go with just under two minutes to play.
Warriors coach John Poulnott had been on the wrong side of close games against the Wildcats in the past, with East Wake having lost matchups between the two teams by a combined seven points the past two seasons.
“We’ve played Millbrook tight every year that I’ve been here. ... (I was thinking) ‘Here we go again,’” Poulnott said. “In the past, when they hit the 30-yard line, I knew they could line up and kick a 50-yard field goal and put us away. This year, not having (former Millbrook kicker Jarrett Cervi, now at Old Dominion), I was a little bit more comfortable, but you’ve got a Division I quarterback (Millbrook junior Reid Herring) and you’ve got a Division I running back (senior Marcus Marshall) in the backfield just waiting for one of those guys to make a play and one of our guys stepped up and sealed the deal.”
Millbrook reached midfield with 45.6 seconds to remaining, and Herring completed an 11-yard pass to tight end A.J. Rogerson to put the Wildcats in East Wake territory. But on the next play, East Wake senior Greg Taylor snagged Herring’s shot downfield, allowing the Warriors to run out the clock and walk away with a 7-6 win.
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The Warriors, without the area’s leading receiver, Quincy Jackson, who was out with a fractured thumb, relied heavily on senior running back Demontay Rhem.
Rhem’s 16-yard run midway through the second quarter put the Warriors in the red zone, and quarterback Tripp Harrington (14 of 20 for 100 yards passing) found DeAndre Holmes on a 3-yard pass for what would be the game-winning score. Rhem finished with 21 carries for 122 yards. Tyler Burton led the Warriors with 43 yards on four catches.
East Wake (2-1) was able to hold on to a slim lead a week after giving up three second-half touchdowns at Wake Forest, but the Wildcats, plagued by penalties, didn’t help themselves.
Millbrook was whistled for 12 penalties, including back-to-back false start calls twice in the second half.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot. ... Every chance we got and everything we got going, we got a penalty and they capitalized on it. That’s what good teams do and they did a great job doing that,” Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore said. “When you go from a first and 10 to a first and 20, first and 25, or second and 25, it’s hard to overcome that, and we’ve got to stop doing those kinds of things to put ourselves in a better situation. We’re a good offensive team, but we didn’t show that tonight.”
The Wildcats (2-1), having cruised to their first two wins of the season, found themselves trailing at halftime for the first time this season. Millbrook scored on its first possession of the game, driving 45 yards in 21 seconds to score on a 1-yard Donovan Darity run, but the Wildcats’ extra point attempt sailed wide.
That score was set up by a 41-yard Marshall catch on the first snap of the series, which would stand as the senior’s largest gain of the night, as the Warriors defense held him to 45 yards on 14 carries and 58 yards on four recpetions.
Herring finished 9 of 18 for 117 yards and one interception.