No matter who wins between Wake Forest and Middle Creek in Friday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA East final, a Wake County team will have a shot at breaking a football title drought.
It has never been easy for an East team to win the 4AA title. Teams from the Charlotte area have been especially dominant since the bracket was subdivided in 2003, winning 10 of the 13 titles, with the other three going to Greensboro’s Page High, Richmond County and New Bern. New Bern is the only East regional champ to win the 4AA title.
Wake County teams have made it to the championship game five times since Garner won it all in 1987, going 0-5. Garner was runner-up in 1998 and 2011. Wake Forest was runner-up in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Wake Forest and Middle Creek have combined to appear in each of the last three N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA East finals. The Mustangs fell last year. Wake Forest won in 2014 but lost in the title game. And in 2013, the two met in a classic, but controversial, 24-23 Cougars win.
The game had a little bit of everything: a safety, a fumbled kickoff return, Wake Forest quarterback Mack Moore throwing his first interception of the year and Middle Creek quarterback Brant Grisel completing 30 of 48 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns while throwing off his back foot all night.
Grisel had to jump to complete some screen passes just to get them by then-sophomore defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who controlled the game.
On a late drive, Wake Forest hurried its punt team on and caught Middle Creek with too many players on the field. The Mustangs were whistled for a 15-yard illegal participation penalty from the original line of scrimmage.
However, the penalty was marked off 22 yards, placing Wake Forest at the Middle Creek 39.
There were other reasons why Middle Creek lost, but that penalty didn’t sit well with a lot of Mustangs fans who speculated the officials had lost place of the original line of scrimmage once the chains moved immediately after the punt was downed.
As Middle Creek coach Randy Ragland and Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas talked about at a preseason scrimmage against one another, they agreed that if the two sides met in the East final, it would be a successful season. And here they are.
“That was ironic now, I guess,” Ragland said. “I know they’re a really good football team, they have a really good defense.
Wake Forest has allowed just 6.4 points per game (Middle Creek is allowing 8.7). Middle Creek is averaging 47.4 points per game (Wake Forest has 38.1), but Ragland thinks his offense has only started to click in recent weeks.
“I think it’s the best offense that we have played against this year,” Lucas said. “Their offensive linemen understand the way to protect the quarterback and the receivers know where to go when the play breaks down.”
U.S. Army honor for Lucas
Lucas was notified last month that he will be coaching in this year’s U.S. Army High School All-American game. Lucas attended the game last year to support Dexter Lawrence.
“I was able to attend some of the coaching sessions and meet some of the guys and I think Dexter was able to represent our community and our school very well,” Lucas said. “And I think they remembered that and that’s why I (got the invite).”
Lucas has either 99 or 100 career wins, depending on how you look at it. He missed one game, but the Cougars won. Whether it’s 99-15 or 100-15, his overall career mark is staggering.
Rocky Mount heads to Havelock
Rocky Mount and Havelock will meet in the 3A East final, and neither team will be in fear of the spotlight. The last 3A team to represent the East aside from these two schools was Eastern Alamance in 2010.
In order for Rocky Mount to win last year’s state championship, Havelock had to have its string of four straight title game appearances broken. Havelock won it all in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was runner-up in 2014.
The Starting 11: players of the week
(Times named to The Starting 11 this season in parentheses.)
Xach Gill, Wake Forest (1): His pressure on the quarterback turned the tide in the second half.
Sherrod Greene, Rocky Mount (1): Had a big game at linebacker and also ran three times for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Gunnar Holmberg, Heritage (1): Completed 22 of 44 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
Alex Kuzy, Cardinal Gibbons (1): Caught 10 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
Devon Lawrence, Wake Forest (4): Ran 26 times for 87 yards and two touchdown; also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Jalen Pittman, Heritage (1): Caught eight passes for 101 yards and one touchdown.
Michael Russell, Middle Creek (1): Had a monster game on defense, capped with an interception for touchdown.
Dominique Shoffner, Middle Creek (6): Completed 16 of 20 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns; ran 10 times for 52 yards and one touchdown.
Jahmir Smith, Lee County (2): Ran 26 times for 182 yards and five touchdowns.
Anton Stoneking, Cardinal Gibbons (2): Completed 24 of 43 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
Charlie Williams III, Rocky Mount (1): Ran eight times for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
3-point stance: top defenses
Middle Creek: Forced six turnovers, including Michael Russell’s pick-six, and held Garner to 33 yards rushing and 119 passing in a 49-30 win.
Rocky Mount: Held Southern Guilford to 129 yards rushing, 30 passing, in a 49-20 win.
Wake Forest: Held Heritage to 25 yards rushing (254 passing) in a 35-20 win.
Note: Teams are seeded into West and Midwest subregions as well as East and Mideast.
4AA: 1E-Wake Forest at 1ME-Middle Creek; 3MW-Vance at 2MW-Page
4A: 2ME-Cape Fear at 1ME-Scotland County; 2MW-Dudley at 2W-Charlotte Catholic
3AA: 5E-Jacksonville at 1ME-Eastern Guilford; 3MW-Hickory Ridge at 2MW-Weddington
3A: 4E-Rocky Mount at 3E-Havelock; 1MW-South Point at 1W-Hibriten
2AA: 6E-Northside (Jacksonville) at 1E-East Duplin; 1MW-Monroe at 1W-Shelby
2A: 3E-Edenton Holmes at 1ME-South Columbus; 1W-Lincolnton at 1MW-Reidsville
1AA: 3E-Tarboro at 2E-Wallace-Rose Hill; 1W-Mount Airy at 1MW-West Montgomery
1A: 2E-Southside at 1E-Plymouth; 2W-Mitchell County at 1W-Murphy
J. Mike Blake: @JMBpreps