Despite winning 101 games in eight years – Saturday’s game is the fourth time the Cougars have reached the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA final game – Wake Forest is no stranger to criticism of its old-fashioned “Wing-T” offensive system.
But this year’s playoff run has, for now, quelled one of the biggest complaints of the run-based offense: Wake Forest has rallied past opponents after falling behind early, no small feat when the Cougars run the ball more than three times the amount they have thrown this year.
In the second round, Laney led 6-0 for most of the game before Wake Forest scored in the fourth quarter to win 7-6.
In the third round, Heritage took an early 14-0 lead, but the Cougars rallied to win 35-20. And in the East final, after Middle Creek tied it up 14-all going into overtime, Wake Forest couldn’t be stopped for a 20-17 win.
“We’ve had to come back and do some things and I guess you look back at (the Laney and Heritage) games and it helped the kids keep their composure in (the Middle Creek) game,” coach Reggie Lucas said.
When Earl Smith retired after the 2008 season, Lucas – who was promoted from co-defensive coordinator – wanted to keep the Wing-T even though many of Smith’s assistants left. He brought in new assistants who knew the offense well.
“I didn’t want to change the offense, because it was working,” Lucas said.
The earliest known use of the Wing-T was 1938, a mix of the single wing and T-Formation. It uses misdirection and power. The linemen do a lot of pulling and the running backs must either carry the ball, block or carry out a fake on every play.
“I hear the question about, ‘Well, coach, you run the Wing-T, it’s not as glamorous,’ but at the same time, we have two good running backs,” Lucas said. “And when that Wing-T is working we can put some points up on the board.”
Bruising junior running back Devon Lawrence (1,484 yards rushing, 23 TDs) has carried the ball 207 times. Up-the-middle fullback Demarcus Jones (683 yards, 11 TDs) has 126 and wing back Marquis Dunn (1,254 yards, 20 TDs) has 119.
Wake Forest is more balanced than in years past. In 2010, the runner-up Cougars got to the title game with quarterback John Conyers having only attempted 64 passes. Chris James has attempted 121 passes at the same stage.
By comparison, Saturday’s opponent, Page High from Greensboro, has just one running back with more than 97 carries and has thrown the ball 373 times.
Page met Wake Forest in the second round last year and scored 21 points in the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead and turn it into the 30-21 win. The Pirates held Wake Forest to 99 yards rushing and 28 passing.
“I’m sure they’re going to give us the same look as last year, try to penetrate up the middle and stop us on the edge,” Lucas said. “Page is a team where, if you get behind them, they want to keep it going. So we’re going to have to control the ball, score when we can and limit those big plays.”
The Wing-T has won a lot of state titles – Rocky Mount is going for its second straight 3A championship on Saturday – but the largest division, 4AA, has mostly gone to teams that throw the ball around since it was created in 2002.
A win Saturday, which would be the first championship by a Wake County public school since 1987, would ensure Lucas won’t have to hear the criticism anymore.
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