In 2015 the top movie in America was “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.” The top selling album was “25” by Adele and “The Big Bang Theory” was the most watched show on TV.
That year Greensboro Page came into Wake Forest and defeated the Cougars in the second round of the NCHSAA playoffs. The Cougars then ripped off 45 wins in a row, highlighted by three state titles. Well, that magical number came to an end Saturday, thanks to a motivated and talented Cardinal Gibbons team.
The Crusaders shocked everyone, maybe except for themselves, by knocking off Wake Forest, 27-24, in the season opener for both teams.
Cardinal Gibbons (1-0) pitched a second-half shutout after the Cougars led 24-14 at halftime. The Crusaders ripped off 13 unanswered and got their season off to a great start, gaining some confidence by dethroning the kings of Wake County.
“We’ve been working all summer, and we’ve been talking about we had Wake Forest Week 1,” senior running back Jack Grazen said. “We knew we were going to win this game and that’s how it worked out. It’s still sinking in.”
Cardinal Gibbons head coach Steven Wright challenged his defense at halftime, and it answered the bell to start the third quarter. Wake Forest (0-1) got the ball first and lost 13 yards in three plays to start the half. The Crusaders scored on a Andrew Harvey-to-Jacob Gill touchdown to cut the lead to three after the successful extra point.
It was more of the same on the next drive as Cardinal Gibbons held the Cougars to 13 yards on four plays, forcing another punt. The Crusaders went on the longest drive of the game — 11 plays — and capped it off with a 5-yard run by Grazen, the final score of the night.
Cardinal Gibbons held Wake Forest to 6 yards in the third quarter, changing the tide of the contest and perhaps the reign of power in Wake County thanks to Wright’s halftime message.
“I basically told them we could either fold our chairs and go home,” Wright told the N&O. “Or we can try and make a game of this. We had a plan, and the defense really set the tone at the start of the second half, and the offense really finished this thing off. They proved they got some grit.”
The Cougars finished with just 56 yards in the second half, and Cardinal Gibbons showed some guts, going for it on fourth-and-1 in Wake Forest territory late in the game to pretty much seal the deal. Wright said that play was a message to his team more than anything else.
The veteran coach simply asked his players if they wanted to win the game, then told them to go and get 1yard. He used 290-pound defensive lineman-turned-fullback Myles Harp to pick up 4 yards.
Grazen was the workhorse for the Crusaders, picking up 90 yards on the ground in the win.
“We just worked hard and got it done,” Grazen said. “We have a great offensive line; I love all of them. It was a big day.”
Maquel Haywood was the star of the show in the first half, scoring three touchdowns for Wake Forest, two rushing and one through the air. Each time Haywood scored it came on the heels of a mistake by Cardinal Gibbons.
After Wake Forest forced a punt on the Crusaders’ third drive of the game, Cardinal Gibbons was flagged for a personal foul at the end of a play. That put the Cougars in Crusaders territory, and Haywood took it in from 26 yards out for the first score of the game.
Gibbons answered on the next drive. After a Gill 35-yard kickoff return set the Crusaders up at the Wake Forest 48, Cardinal Gibbons used four plays to find pay dirt. The drive ended when Ethan Hebb scored from 5 yards out, tying the score after the successful PAT.
Wake Forest only needed two plays to score its next 12 points. Cardinal Gibbons had another penalty to give the Cougars good field position — the Crusaders’ 21 — and Haywood took it off the left side for his second score of the night, putting Wake Forest ahead 14-7. Gill lost a fumble on the next drive that was recovered by Kahlil Watson and Noah Douglas went through the air and hit Haywood for a 66-yard touchdown.
Gibbons struck back once again. The Crusaders used a couple of big plays on the ground to set up the passing game. Harvey went up top to find Cameron Noble for a 51-yard score with 4:35 remaining in the first half.
The Cougars added one more score in a driving rain when Austin Riley drilled a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give Wake Forest a 24-14 lead.
The punters were the stars of the first half as the teams combined for nine fourth downs and seven punts. Both teams had one conversion attempt on fourth down in the first half, but both failed.
The wet field also took away each team’s ability to sustain any long drives. The Crusaders had a pair of six-play drives. The Cougars longest drive was five plays. Wake Forest’s initial first down of the first half came thanks to a penalty against Cardinal Gibbons.
But the Cougars couldn’t get the momentum, or the streak going. The Crusaders held Wake Forest to one first down in the second half and controlled the game after the break, eventually handing Cougars’ head coach Reggie Lucas his 16th loss since taking over in 2009.
Wake Forest will have to start another streak next week at Clayton. Cardinal Gibbons will host Durham-Riverside. Although they will celebrate the win, Wright wants his team to remember this is just one (big) win and doesn’t make or break the season.
“This is a win,” Wright said. “It’s a win against a quality opponent, but we have to turn around and get ready for Durham-Riverside. It’s a win, we’re at a place where we are 1-0 and the rest of our schedule is not easy. We have to maintain that focus and move forward.”