East Wake was looking for its second straight win over a ranked opponent and stuck to a pretty simple strategy in making it happen: let key players make key plays.
The No. 11 Warriors held off visiting No. 13 Heritage, 34-29, on Friday largely thanks to star running back Damontay Rhem’s 226-yard, two-score night. It also didn’t hurt that Rhem’s offense-leading counterpart Tripp Harrington threw for three touchdowns out of his 12-for-19, 161 yard outing.
Trailing by the final margin with 1:35 to play, the Huskies (3-1) tried for an onside kick but East Wake recovered and rode Rhem’s 16- and 18-yard dashes for first downs to the final whistle.
“He was a horse,” East Wake coach John Poulnott said of his halfback. “(Heritage) pressured us well all night, so we decided to delay and run. We ran some traps and some iso and got him free a couple times.”
For the Warriors (3-1), the win avenged last year’s 41-35 loss at Heritage. The Huskies were allowing their opponents an average of 2.3 points per game prior to Friday’s game.
“The big thing about this win is us getting that monkey off our backs,” Poulnott said. “The last two or three years we’d get a big win and then take a slide. It was good for us to finally come off a win and be able to pick another one on a ranked opponent.”
East Wake scored first near the end of the opening frame on a 12-yard pass from Harrington to Chris Ajagbawa.
A pair of five-yard penalties moved the Huskies backward while positioned in the red zone on their drive at the start of the second quarter. The drive died on a turnover on downs and East Wake was quick to take advantage with Harrington’s 8-yard toss to Tyler Burton set the Warriors up with a 14-0 cushion.
Heritage quarterback Blake Walters (15-for-30, 178 yards) got his team on the board with a 1-yard keeper with 3:16 left in the half, but the extra point sailed wide, leaving the score at 14-6.
Walters opened the third quarter with six straight completions and found the end zone on a 26-yard strike to John McCaffity. Isaac Burton’s two-point conversion tied the game.
East Wake responded with a four-play, 1 minute and 40 second drive ending with a 40-yard throw from Harrington to Greg Taylor and extra point by Luis Chavez midway through the period. But Heritage came back with a 16-yard toss from Walters to Gershom Ejoni on the fifth play of the ensuing drive, and took the lead with a gutsy two-point conversion taken in by Walters for the 22-21 edge.
A sack forced Heritage to punt from its own 2 yard line near the end of the third quarter. The punt left East Wake with the ball on the Heritage 27, and Rhem needed just one touch to regain the lead for the Warriors, 28-22.
On the following drive, a 15-yard defensive pass interference call against the Warriors put the Huskies on the East Wake 36, but the Warriors denied a fourth-and-short try by Heritage. On the Warriors’ next play, however, Heritage came up with a fumble recovery to take over about where its last drive ended, on the East Wake 30.
Again, the Warriors forced a fourth down, and survived on a long pass by Walters.
Heritage’s final hope at rallying was set up by a 1-yard passing score from Walters to Jeff Gemmell in the final two minutes.