Cap-8 Conference rivals Wake Forest and Heritage came into their N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA third-round playoff game riding the exploits of their defenses.
Nothing about that changed on Friday night.
Defense led to all three first-half touchdowns as the Huskies held a seven-point lead, but the Cougars held the Huskies to 86 yards in the second half en route to the 35-20 victory.
Wake Forest quarterback Chris James had minus-3 yards of passing in the first half, but he had touchdown passes of 33 and 58 yards in the second half to lead the come-from-behind victory over their rivals.
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The Cougars victory sets up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown for the East Region crown. N&O No. 2-ranked Wake Forest (14-0) will travel to No. 1 Middle Creek (14-0) next Friday. The last time those two met, Wake Forest won 24-23 in 2013, also in the regional title game.
Heritage, which lost 26-13 to Wake Forest on Oct. 14 at home, finished the season at 11-3.
Down 14-7 at the half, Wake Forest marched 70 yards on its opening drive of the second half, capped by an 11-yard TD run by Devon Lawrence.
The next time the Cougars got the ball, James hit Lawrence for a 33-yard score with 2:53 left in the third quarter for the Cougars’ first lead. The extra point was blocked, keeping it 20-14.
After a punt by Heritage, James found Marquis Dunn on a bubble screen on a third-and-12 play, and the junior followed his blockers for a 58-yard score and a 26-14 lead.
Held without a first down in the second half up to that point, the Huskies’ offense finally found itself, eventually scoring on a 13-yard pass from Gunnar Holmberg to Devin Grant with 7:25 to go. The extra point was blocked by Darius Hodge, keeping it 26-20, Wake Forest in the lead.
A 28-yard field goal by Christopher Vidal pushed the Cougars’ lead to 29-20 with 4:34 left.
An interception by junior linebacker Seth Williams sealed the win for Wake Forest with 3:31 to go.
Holmberg completed 21 of 44 passes for 235 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. Thayer Thomas, Jalen Pittman and Grant had the scores.
Lawrence had a 4-yard run for the game’s last score and Dunn had a 41-yarder in the second quarter for Wake Forest’s first touchdown.