The lingering questions of “if” and “when” a Wake County high school could break the 29-year football championship drought have been answered. Yes, it can be done, and Wake Forest is the team to do it.
The ripple effect goes beyond White Street in downtown Wake Forest. Its impact is more substantial than a 29-0 victory, like the one the Cougars notched Saturday against Greensboro’s Page High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA championship game.
“Wake County should enjoy this victory,” Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said.
Wake Forest’s players, focused more on breaking through their own bad luck in the title game, didn’t feel the weight of the county. The Cougars needed this win for themselves. No more a bridesmaid, they have a ring of their own.
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And they did it easily.
“Being born and raised in Wake Forest, that’s the ultimate thing right there, to bring it back to the community we can all have for the rest of our lives,” senior lineman Xach Gill said.
But the county that has won a team state title in 22 other NCHSAA sports – everything but softball – since 2009, will bask in the glow.
Though the players are too young to remember it, it was less than a decade ago that a team from Wake County was the underdog in any given playoff game against teams from Fayetteville or the Greenville/New Bern corridor.
But thanks to message boards, they’ve come across the nickname “Weak County,” a term that was in the works after Wake didn’t make it back to the championship game after 1998 until 2009.
Maybe those who came to accept “Weak County” as truth, emboldened by four runner-up finishes since 2010 – three by Wake Forest and one by Garner in 2011 – will try to explain away this title.
But this was no fluke.
Page had ran over the last team left from Charlotte last week when it beat Z.B. Vance 49-14. The Pirates were a deserving 4AA West champion.
For Wake Forest, three runner-up finishes since 2010 should’ve told anyone that the Cougars were more than deserving to be here as well.
This was not luck either.
Wake Forest took its first lead 1 minute and 18 seconds into the game and didn’t let up.
It’s too early to say how this team will be remembered. Garner’s 1987 team is adored to this day, with fiery coach Hal Stewart and electric running back Anthony Barbour becoming part of this county’s athletic folklore.
It might get misremembered as the team with Dexter Lawrence and Bryce Love, but this year’s group had its own standouts.
Darius Hodge’s hard hits and blocked punts made it clear the best player on the field was from Wake County. The best linemen were also from Wake County. The best offensive player was Devon Lawrence.
It was domination.
It was a statement the rest of the state can hear.
No more questions about if Wake County can win a football championship.
Now the only question is: Who’s next?