Back-to-back losses may have awoken a sleeping giant in the Wake Christian Academy defense.
The Bulldogs advanced to the NCISSA Division III state championship game by knocking off visiting Concord First Assembly on Friday night, 29-14. The Bulldogs will seek their first state championship in 11-man football since 1985 next week when they travel to High Point to take on High Point Christian Academy.
The Wake Christian defense stood tall for the fourth consecutive game following back-to-back losses in early October. Concord managed just 106 yards of total offense while the Bulldogs (9-3) forced four turnovers.
“We were a little discouraged midway through the season with a couple of losses but we got our heads back on and we just kept playing hard throughout the rest of the season and that’s what got us here,” senior linebacker and captain Will Cruikshank said.
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The Eagles’ first eight possessions Friday resulted in four punts, two interceptions, a lost fumble and a turnover on downs as Wake Christian ran out to a 29-0 lead.
Grayson Williams and John Toler each came up with interceptions while Camden Woods and Andrew Spain both recovered fumbles and the Bulldogs sacked Concord quarterback Josh Orean three times for a total of 52 yards in lost ground.
“We just swarm to the ball. It’s not one guy making tackles,” Cruikshank said. “All 11 guys are around the football.”
The defensive performance by the Bulldogs was not all that surprising considering their recent body of work. Entering Friday’s game, Wake Christian had allowed just 14 points with two shutouts in its previous three games, including a 41-0 drubbing of Village Christian Academy in the first round of the playoffs.
“It starts with our defensive line. We just rush three (defenders) and they’ve done a terrific job,” Bulldogs coach Stephen Cochran said. “We’ve just flown to the football.”
Trevon Muse scored on a 13-yard run and again on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Nathanial Williams and Connor Collins also found the end zone on a 55-yard catch-and-run. Seth Bunn punched across the final Bulldog touchdown from three yards out.
Concord finally broke up the shutout with seven minutes to play on a 10-yard pass from Orean to Matthew Cornell. William Lloyd soon followed with a 68-yard punt return touchdown.
Wake Christian won a state title in eight-man football in 2003, but will have a chance at the school’s first 11-man title in 30 years.
“At the beginning of the year we thought we could do this,” Cochran said. “Three months ago we thought we could do this, and now it’s a reality.”
NCISAA Division III State Championship -
Friday at 7 p.m. at the High Point Athletic Complex
Wake Christian (9-3) vs. High Point Christian (11-1)
Meet the Cougars: High Point hasn’t lost since August (against Ravenscroft), riding a 10-game win streak. The streak started with a 35-12 win over Wake Christian on Sept. 4. … The contest is a rematch of last year’s state semifinal, won by the Cougars, 27-23. … High Point Christian has one of the stingiest defenses around, giving up just 7.84 points a game this season. Five players have 40 or more tackles on the season, led by sophomore Copeland Petifils’ 119 takedowns. … Quarterback De’Shaun Taylor has thrown for 1,367 yards and 17 TDs with just two interceptions. His favorite target is Dre Davis (474 yards, 7 TDs).
The winner meets: a jewelry salesman for a state championship ring fitting.