Wake Forest will enter the state title as a model of consistency in Wake County.
Even though Heritage opened on the other side of town in 2010, and Rolesville followed in 2013 (which also prompted the name change back to Wake Forest after having been Wake Forest-Rolesville), the Cougars have only gotten better.
This is their fourth trip to the state title game since 2010. No active Wake County high school has more than three all-time. Wake Forest has won at least 12 games in four straight seasons and has at least 10 wins in nine of the last 10 seasons.
It’s a far cry from what it was like when coach Reggie Lucas was walking the hallways.
“We just wanted to make the playoffs,” Lucas said. “I don’t want to be the focus. I’m a part of this. If I wasn’t coaching I would be just as proud. So being a part of this community and seeing this happen to the town of Wake Forest, I’m very proud.”
The Cougars break their final huddle with a chant that includes the program’s attributes.
It starts “I am committed” and cycles through “I am accountable” and “I am trustworthy.”
It adds to whom: to Wake Forest High School, the football program and the community.
“That’s something we stay true to,” senior linebacker Darius Hodge said. “We respect it, and that’s what we do.”
The discipline shows through in the little things.
Wake Forest is consistent in its offense, the Wing-T.
Even though opponents know what’s coming, there’s only so much they can do against it when it’s executed the way that Lucas and his staff coach it.
The Cougars are the same on the other side of the ball.
A big front line takes the headlines, but Wake Forest is a remarkable tackling team, which comes down to fundamentals more than sheer talent.
The commitment to the program also shows up in the big things. The last true road loss for Wake Forest was at Leesville Road in 2013. That was a “down year” that also ended in the state championship game. The Cougars were a 12-seed after finishing fourth in the Cap-8 Conference and made NCHSAA history as the lowest seeded football team to ever play for the title.
The state championship is the final hurdle for the program to clear. It came close last time, in 2014, when it trailed by just five points in the fourth quarter before losing 25-14 to Mallard Creek.
Wake Forest carries the hope of a county that hasn’t won an N.C. High School Athletic Association football title in 29 years. Wake County is 10-13-1 all-time in the championship, most of those wins by old Raleigh High, and 0-5 since Garner last won it in 1987.
Page High, which was last year’s 4AA runner-up, is no stranger to big games as well. The Pirates also have a history of beating Wake teams, topping Wake Forest in last year’s second round and Middle Creek in the East final. Page also beat Garner for the 2011 state title.
“We’ve got to stay focused – when the game’s tight we can’t drop our heads,” Hodge said. “We’ve got to go there and finish it. We’ve got to finish it and bring the title home to Wake Forest.”
Wake County in the football state title
L to Mallard Creek 25-14
L to Mallard Creek 59-21
L to Page 35-21
L to Butler 44-0
L to Richmond County 36-6
W 40-21 vs. Harding
L to Lexington 42-12
W 14-0 vs. Olympic
W 21-0 vs. Durham
L to Edenton 19-0
L 19-7 to Elizabethtown
W 19-0 vs. Garinger
W 21-0 vs. Spruce Pine
W 28-6 vs. High Point
L to Charlotte 7-0
0-0 tie with High Point
L to Charlotte 12-7
W 31-6 vs. Winston-Salem
L to Reidsville 6-0
L to Reidsville 20-7
L to Charlotte 14-6
W 6-0 vs. Charlotte
W 117-0 vs. Asheville
W 29-0 vs. Washington
*The NCHSAA did not have state championships in some years in various classifications. The playoffs were stopped at the sectional or regional levels in 4A (1965 and 1966); 3A and 2A (1961 through 1971) and 1A (1961 through 1967).