Things got crazy real fast in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA East regional football final.
Wake Forest looked to be putting the cap on a third title in four years and fourth since 2010, leading by two touchdowns over Middle Creek and lining up for a 40-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
However, a penalty pushed the kick to 45 yards, and the Mustangs’ Daniel Jackson blocked it and caught the ball in midair. He returned it for a 63-yard touchdown to cut the lead in half and begin a stirring comeback that sent the game to overtime.
In the extra session, the Mustangs took the lead with a 24-yard field goal by Trevor Kirkland. However, the Cougars answered the way they did all game – with Devon Lawrence.
The junior ran the ball three times, going nowhere the first time, 9 yards the second and 1 yard for the game-winning score to put Wake Forest into the state championship game with the 20-17 victory.
Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said the adversity the Cougars have faced in the postseason prepared them for the late hiccup.
“Not the way it happened, but the last couple of weeks we were down against Heritage, Laney was up 6-0,” he said. “So, we’ve had to come back and do some things and maintain that. I guess if you look back on those two games it helped these kids keep their composure tonight.”
Lawrence finished the game with 35 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
The East’s No. 1 seed and No. 2-ranked Cougars (15-0) will take on Greensboro Page (14-1) in the NCHSAA 4AA state championship at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. Page topped Vance 49-14 to advance.
Middle Creek (14-1) also lost a heartbreaker to the Cougars in the East final in 2013, 24-23.
After the Mustangs’ first score, the Cougars fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and Middle Creek’s Shammond Hicks recovered at the 27. Hicks then caught a 27-yard touchdown from Dominique Shoffner to tie the score as the Mustangs scored 14 points in 14 seconds.
Wake Forest got the ball back late after Darius Hodge and Xach Gill sacked Shoffner, forcing a fumble at the Middle Creek 12, recovered by Jadacus Logan.
However, the Cougars missed a 24-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to force overtime.
Delante Lucas scored from 7 yards out and kicker Christopher Vidal made it 7-0 with 5:52 left in the first after a big faked punt by Wake Forest in the first quarter.
Shoffner, who had seven 200-yard passing games coming into Friday’s game, was stifled for most of the game by a three-man front of Logan, Gill and Jaden McKenzie. He finished 15-of-30 for just 93 yards.
Wake Forest went up 14-0 on Lawrence’s 1-yard TD with 7:13 to go in the third quarter. This came after Middle Creek attempted a fake punt near midfield.