Once a good movie runs its course, talk of a sequel begins. When the curtain closed on Middle Creek’s 17-14 overtime win at Fuquay-Varina on Oct. 23, anticipation of a potential playoff rematch ensued.
Thirty-five days later, Middle Creek vs. Fuquay-Varina II is set to premiere.
The first meeting – in which the Mustangs locked up the conference title on Jared Shea’s walk-off field goal – was widely regarded as one of the area’s biggest regular-season football games in years. So what will the second game bring?
The answer will come Black Friday at Middle Creek High School.
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The Mustangs are 13-0. The Bengals 12-1.
On the line is a trip to the state semifinals. A meager eight miles separates the schools.
“I’m excited for our kids and I’m excited for the Fuquay kids to be able to play in a game like this,” said Mustangs coach Randy Ragland, himself a former quarterback at Fuquay-Varina. “This is what high school football is all about and it’s what it should be all about.”
Said Bengals coach Jeb Hall, “There’s not many chances in life where you get a second chance. And we will.”
We are who we are and we’re not going to change anything at this point in the season. They do what they do really well and we do what we do really well.
Middle Creek coach Randy Ragland
Part of what makes the matchup so intriguing is the contrast of styles. Top-seeded Middle Creek likes to run an up-tempo offense and spread the field – 11 different players have caught a pass this season – and averages 37.8 points per game.
Fifth-seeded Fuquay-Varina is a smashmouth kind of team, running on 89.9 percent of all offensive plays. It also boasts a gritty defense that held the Mustangs to a season-low point total.
One thing both coaches made clear is that they won’t change who they are just for one night.
“We are who we are and we’re not going to change anything at this point in the season,” Ragland said. “They do what they do really well and we do what we do really well. We do the same thing pretty much every Friday night.”
“We’ll look at what they did to us the first time and make our adjustments to that. Kind of like an extended halftime period,” Hall said.
Fuquay-Varina already has the experience of playing a team twice in one season. The Bengals defeated Green Hope in the sixth game of the regular season before again getting past the Falcons in the first round of the state playoffs.
But Middle Creek has gotten the best of the Bengals lately.
The Mustangs have won seven straight against their Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rivals and Fuquay-Varina hasn’t defeated Middle Creek since 2010. The Mustangs knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2013.
But Ragland knows nothing is a given come Friday night.
Although Bengal quarterback Brycen Braswell has only thrown for 37 yards per game, he has just two interceptions and averages close to 70 yards per game rushing. The Bengals boast two 1,000-yard rushers in seniors Colten Smith and Josh Arrington.
“They run the ball really well,” Ragland said. “The quarterback is an excellent football player and does a great job of controlling that offense. And their defense is good. In the second half of the game against Fuquay we only ran 13 plays in the second half. It’s amazing that we won the game only running 13 plays in a half.”
Middle Creek is almost the polar opposite when it comes to style points. Quarterback Dominique Shoffner averages 193.8 yards per game through the air while the Mustangs don’t have a single rusher to crack 800 yards for the season.
Despite the history, despite the numbers, Ragland had a more simplistic way of summing up a game of this magnitude:
“Sometimes it just comes down to which way the ball bounces.”