Wake Forest and Rocky Mount, the two N&O-ranked area schools playing N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships, both have coaches leading their alma maters into the big game.
Jason Battle was a star quarterback and baseball player at Rocky Mount. He played both in college at North Carolina A&T. His staff has five other coaches who are proud Gryphons.
“It’s about a staff of people who take pride in what they do,” Battle said. “It’s a hometown team.”
Reggie Lucas graduated Wake Forest as a quarterback, played at Lenoir-Rhyne as a cornerback, and returned to the school shortly after. He hasn’t coached anywhere else and has been an assistant for Rock Harrison, Ron Hales and Earl Smith.
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“These guys absolutely loved football. Coach Harrison and coach Hales were the face of our program for probably 20-25 years. When you talk about Wake Forest, those are the two names that were there,” Lucas said. “Coach Harrison was passionate about football. Coach Hales was always a guy I would always see studying, coming up with defensive plays, coming up with strategies.”
He continued: “I would say my passion came from coach Harrison, the way I game plan came from coach Hales. Earl, coaching with him, I got from him that don’t complain about what you have, coach’em up and believe in your players and your player will believe in you. And don’t make excuses.”
Coaches go way back
South Point coach Micky Lineberger goes way back with Rocky Mount’s Battle, well before last year’s 24-21 Rocky Mount victory over the Red Raiders in overtime of the 3A state championship game.
Battle played college baseball with Lineberger’s son, and the two had some fun picking at one another in the breakout sessions of Monday’s press conference.
Lineberger offered for both coaches to let “all” their Shrine Bowl players attend that game, since it conflicts with the state championships (Rocky Mount has one Shrine Bowl player, South Point has none) but no deal was struck.
“I’ll leave my Shrine Bowl guys if you don’t play Nos. 77 (lineman Phillip Davis) and 33 (linebacker Nick Muse). We got a fair game, now how about that?,” Battle replied.
Those are two of the top defensive players on a team that has allowed just six points in four playoff games combined.
“Can’t do it,” Lineberger said. “That’s 2-for-1, now that ain’t right is it?”
“You pick another number,” Battle said. “Those are the two I want.”
Rocky Mount and South Point have the only rematch of last year’s state championships.
Chase Miller kicked a 20-yard field goal for the winning score after South Point’s field goal to start overtime missed. B.J. Sanders returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown and now-graduated Nick Bynum rushed for two TDs for Rocky Mount. Bynum’s 4-yard TD run with 3:06 remaining tied it at 21.
Wake Forest and Page is a rematch of last year’s second round, when Page was split into the East bracket and knocked off the Cougars 30-21 en route to a runner-up finish.
A classy move
Havelock lost Friday in the most crushing of fashions. The Rams had 4th-and-goal from the 1, up seven, with less than 40 seconds left. Then Rocky Mount stopped the run, threw a 99-yard touchdown pass on the next play, and then slugged it out to win 34-33 in three overtimes.
Still, long after the game had ended, Havelock’s Jeffrey Harris – in full uniform and helmet still – made the long walk between locker rooms to do something that must’ve been hard to do at that moment. He shook the hands of the Rocky Mount assistant coaches standing there and told them “Good luck to you next week.”
The Rocky Mount assistants thanked him and told him that was a classy thing to do.
Mustangs’ run ends
Hundreds of Middle Creek fans lined the fencing up and down the home stands in an eerie silence well after the Mustangs’ 20-17 overtime loss to Wake Forest in the 4AA semifinal. The Mustangs are 28-2 in the last two years, both times coming up just short of a state title game.
“A lot of people would be happy with that, that’s for sure,” coach Randy Ragland said. “They did everything the right way, it’s just (Friday) didn’t work out for them.”
‘Block-6’ goes viral
As people think back to the Wake Forest vs. Middle Creek game, one play stands out above the rest. Daniel Jackson’s “block-6.”
Jackson, a lanky safety with 10 interceptions this year, broke through the middle of Wake Forest line and seemed to almost snatch the low 45-yard attempt out of the air. The kick struck him in the numbers, and his raised arms fell down and clasped it against his chest. He didn’t break stride en route to returning his own blocked kick that never hit the ground.
Video of the play, which is also on nando.com/preps, has since gone national on USA Today’s website.
“Daniel Jackson may be one of the best football players I’ve ever been around,” Ragland said. “It’s a shame Division I schools in our area aren’t knocking our door down to come recruit him. It really is.”
The Starting 11
There were 107 different players form 56 area schools who were named to The Starting 11 players of the week lists, which ran for all 12 weeks of an extended regular season and three rounds of the playoffs.
Cleveland quarterback Caiden Norman had the most appearances of any player with nine, followed by: Holly Springs running back Broderick Taylor and Middle Creek quarterback Dominique Shoffner (six each), D.H. Conley quarterback Holton Ahlers and Clayton wide receiver Devin Carter (five each).
Wake Forest had the most players with six: quarterback Chris James, running backs Devon Lawrence and Marquis Dunn, lineman Xach Gill, linebacker Darius Hodge and safety John Jiles.
4AA: 1E-Wake Forest vs. 2MW-Page – Saturday, 3:05 p.m. at NCSU
4A: 2ME-Cape Fear vs. 2MW-Dudley – Saturday, 7:05 p.m. at NCSU
3AA: 1ME-Eastern Guilford vs. 2MW-Weddington – Saturday, 3:05 p.m. at Wake Forest
3A: 4E-Rocky Mount vs. 1MW-South Point – Saturday, 11:05 a.m. at Wake Forest
2AA: 6E-Northside (Jacksonville) vs. 1W-Shelby – Saturday, 11:05 a.m. at NCSU
2A: 3E-Edenton Holmes vs. 1MW-Reidsville – Saturday, 7:05 p.m. at Wake Forest
1AA: 2E-Wallace-Rose Hill vs. 1MW-West Montgomery – Friday, 7:35 p.m. at UNC
1A: 1E-Plymouth vs. 1W-Murphy – Saturday, 11:05 a.m. at UNC
J. Mike Blake: @JMBpreps