Wake Forest’s two post-season victories confirmed to senior linebacker Darius Hodge what he had believed all along: his team can dig down deep with resolve to beat you.
The unbeaten Cougars (14-0) could have grown fat from dominating opponents with double-digit victories. They won their first seven games, outscoring opponents 312-26 with four straight shutouts.
Wake Forest opened the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs with another shutout, beating Panther Creek 56-0.
But in the second round the Cougars survived Wilmington’s Laney, 7-6. In the third round, Wake Forest faced a rematch with neighborhood rival Heritage. The Huskies put up a scary challenge with a 14-0 lead behind Duke-bound junior quarterback Gunnar Holmberg.
The No. 2-seeded Cougars had to rally for a 35-20 victory to advance to the NCHSAA East Regional final Friday at top-seeded Middle Creek (14-0).
“Holmberg has improved a lot,” Hodge said. “He saw blitzes coming and got out of it. He’s a good athlete running the ball and knew how to slide. When we were down, we talked about how we can still win this game. One guy made a play and then another guy a play. We kept our energy up. We fed off each other.”
One of those plays was a sack by defensive end Xach Gill that slowed Heritage’s momentum.
Hodge, though, had to hustle to congratulate him. His versatility allows him to retreat into pass coverage. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder’s profile fits a run stuffer, but his feet are quick enough to defend the pass.
He leads his team with eight interceptions.
Hodge prides himself on his ability to make tackles all over the whole field.
He also leads his team in that category, with 103.
“I’ve always been able to move pretty well, and my parents have taught me to take care of my body,” he said. “A lot of pass coverage is being able to outthink people. You want to beat the receiver to the spot.”
But it turns out defense isn’t the only example of Hodge’s versatility. Since the start of the playoffs, he’s recorded double-duty on offense. He’s cleared holes as a lead blocker with some carries. He also ran the ball twice for 9 yards against Heritage.
“We’ve had that in our package all year, but we’re bringing it out in the playoffs,” said Wake Forest junior quarterback Chris James. “He’s been leading us all year making plays on offense. He’s vocal and tells us when we’re doing things right or wrong. He’s a big-time player.”
Hodge loves the extra work and presence on the field.
“The job of a fullback is to open holes,” he said, “but I like running the ball, too.”
Hodge’s focus is on finishing the season with a state title, but he presumably will face Heritage’s Holmberg again. He is committed to N.C. State for head coach Dave Doeren.
“The coaches were down-to-earth and I liked all the guys on the team,” Hodge said. “It’s home, too. I like staying close to home to play in college.”
He was recruited as a linebacker, but Hodge says he may send Doeren some video of himself playing fullback to hint at double-duty.
“I’d like that,” he said. “I’ll play anywhere to help the team win.”