One sure thing going into Friday’s 4AA East football final at Trentini Stadium was that a Wake County power would be headed to next weekend’s state championship game.
The result was convincing.
Running backs Marquis Dunn and Devon Lawrence scored three touchdowns apiece, leading undefeated Wake Forest to a 51-21 romp over Garner.
“What these guys did every single week and how they did it every single week is unbelievable,” Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said.
The win propelled the defending 4AA state champion Cougars – now on a 30-game win streak – into the state final at noon on Dec. 9 at Wake Forest University’s BB&T Field in Winston-Salem against Charlotte’s Mallard Creek.
Mallard Creek and Wake Forest met in the 2013 and 2014 N.C. High School Athletic Association title games, with Mallard Creek winning both. The latter of the two was also played at BB&T Field. Mallard Creek won it all in 2015 as well, before Wake Forest took the crown in 2016.
“It’s a testament to what (Mallard Creek) is able to do,” Lucas said. “We know what we’re up against. We’re just going to have evaluate them on film, make sure we’re healthy and go out there and do the best we can, and that’s what I expect from my guys.”
When Wake Forest (14-0) won the 2016 4AA state title, it marked the first time a Wake County school had won an NCHSAA football title since Garner in 1987.
Now, the Cougars could be the first Wake County team to repeat since Raleigh High won the state’s first three title games from 1913-15.
The Cougars made getting back to the state’s biggest stage look easy from the start.
Garner (9-5) started the game with a failed onside kick, and two plays later Dunn scored from 41 yards.
Dunn doubled the lead 20 seconds into the second quarter two plays after a punt.
It went to 16-0 on a safety when the Trojans snapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety, and then 23-0 when Dunn went in from 8 yards. The Trojans tried to get something going following the ensuing kickoff, but a Javon Terry interception set up Lawrence’s 1-yard run for a 30-0 halftime score.
“You can’t make mistakes against a great football team,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “It’s tough to come out of that hole. I liked how we competed in that second half. We showed our fight and our determination.”
Garner interrupted the barrage on its first possession after halftime on Nolan McLean’s 10-yard toss to Ralph Vieux.
But that momentum died on Wake Forest’s second play of the next drive, with Lawrence making it 37-7 on an 83-yard sprint.
Garner kept coming, with Daiveon Carrington closing out a long drive with a 3-yard run.
But Drew Homschek picked off McLean in the end zone with 10 minutes to go to ice the result.
The teams exchanged interceptions early in the fourth quarter before Lawrence’s third touchdown, a 3-yard run. Wake Forest’s Maquel Haywood and Garner’s Jaydin Dixon rounded out the fourth-quarter scoring with touchdowns.
The Cougars came in looking for their fifth regional championship in eight seasons, having beaten the Trojans 27-13 in the Eastern 4AA final in 2014. Garner started this season with a 1-4 record before running the table the rest of the regular season en route to the South Wake Athletic Conference championship.
Since 2009, only six schools have appeared in the 4AA championship: Wake Forest, Garner, Mallard Creek, Page, Butler and Jack Britt.