Garner Cleveland: Sports

Wake Christian advances in NCISAA playoffs with win at High Point Christian

Wake Christian came up with turnovers whenever the Bulldogs needed them Friday night and downed High Point Christian 27-23 in the opening round of the NCISAA Division III playoffs Friday night.

Freshman quarterback Nathaniel Williams connected with senior receiver Isaiah Moore for the go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 56 seconds left and junior Adam Jones sealed it with an interception in the final minute. The pick was the Bulldogs’ fourth of the night.

Wake Christian (8-4) will meet top-seeded Charlotte Victory Christian (8-2) in a state semifinal next week. Friday’s victory was the Bulldogs’ first in 11-man football in the playoffs. Wake Christian won several state titles in eight-man football.

“It was just a great playoff battle,” said Wake Christian coach Steve Cochran. “Both teams played so physical, so hard and deserved to win. We’re just glad we get to practice again on Monday and play again next Friday night.”

The Bulldogs fell behind 7-0 but answered with 21 straight points. Senior quarterback Luke Ryals scored on a 9-yard option keeper and then Moore ran in a blocked punt from 11 yards out for a 14-7 lead.

Jonathan Earnest recovered his second fumble of the night to set up the final Bulldogs’ score of the first half, a 2-yard TD run by Carson Collins with 2:58 left in the half.

High Point Christian cut the lead to 21-14 on Justin Timmons’ 7-yard TD reception with 1:23 in the half.

Ryals went out in the second quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury while returning a fumble. The loss of Ryals’ running slowed the Bulldogs’ offensive production to a halt and High Point Christian pulled ahead 23-21 with a 1-yard TD run by Aaron Gibson in the third quarter and a 21-yard field goal by Greg Streater with 6:11 left.

High Point Christian, riding the running of Zach McLean (186 yards on 20 carries), had driven to the Wake Christian 3 on the drive that ended with the field goal. Three consecutive stops for no or a loss of yardage forced the Crusaders to settle for the kick.

Streater’s field goal followed two blocked attempts by the Bulldogs. Wake Christian blocked a punt, two field goals and an extra point.

“Special teams was a big part of the reason why they beat us the first time,” said Cochran, referencing a 44-26 loss on Sept. 5. “We gave up 16 points that night on special teams. And we did a little bit of everything on special teams tonight and it made a huge difference in the game.”

An 80-yard drive with Williams completing four passes followed the High Point Christian field goal. The last pass went to Moore, who bounced off of two tackle attempts, after pulling in a short slant pass from Williams.

“We just had to get a little rhythm going,” “We lost (Ryals) and it was a grind for a while. Nathaniel is a great passer but he’s a freshman. We just had to get him calmed down a little bit. He showed us what he can do on that game-winning drive.”

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