By David Allen with Clellie Allen
CARY — Wake Forest’s rematch against Panther Creek in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 4A playoffs was an all-out battle which ended 35-14 in the Cougars’ favor.
The Catamounts entered the playoffs with just two losses and were seeded higher than the Cougars.
But Wake Forest had beaten Panther Creek in their season opener, holding them to just two touchdowns in a 28-14 victory. Panther Creek’s only other loss was by a two-point margin to Middle Creek.
Friday’s game became one of which defensive team would wear out the other; and Wake Forest won, decisively.
On their first possession, the Cougar defense barely let Panther Creek out of their own red zone before forcing them to punt.
But the tables turned and Wake Forest was unable to bring the ball across midfield after a false start call and then further loss of yards due to a solid Catamount defense.
Panther Creek took advantage of good field position after the Wake Forest punt and seeming to catch the Cougars off balance, scored on a 1-yard play.
The two teams traded field position for the rest of the quarter, neither able to reel off more than three or four plays before having to get rid of the ball.
At the start of the second period, it was as if the Cougars had had enough and Bryce Love took the ball on a 44-yard run to put Wake Forest on the board. Jake Coates’ extra point attempt was good and Wake Forest pulled ahead 7-6.
Panther Creek looked like they would respond in kind. Jordan Betts ran the ball back 35 yards on the kick off. But on the next play, Wake Forest’s Ki’Mon Small snagged an interception.
The Cougars fed off that energy, putting Devonte Reynolds within 30 yard of the goal line, which was enough for him. He ran the ball 27 yards for the score. Coates was good on the PAT and the Cougars moved to 14-6.
But the Catamounts weren’t down, yet. On their fourth play after the ensuing kickoff, Panther Creek’s Philip Stone ran a 33-yard touchdown. Matthew Powell then brought the ball across the line for a successful 2-point conversion and the game was tied up heading into the break.
The second half of the game was all Wake Forest. The Cougars put up 21 additional points, while their defense created havoc in the Catamount camp.
On their first possession after the break, Wake Forest put together textbook plays, mixing both air and ground attacks. Getting down to within 1 yard, quarterback Mack Moore ran a keeper play for a touchdown and the score moved to 21-14 with a successful PAT.
On defense, Wake Forest’s Norman Cade made the second interception of the night by being in the right place at the right time. The Panther Creek receiver he was covering bobbled the ball, right into Cade’s hands. Although Wake Forest was not able to capitalize on the turnover, they prevented a potential Catamount score.
At the start of the fourth period, Devonte Reynolds made his second touchdown of the night on a 23-yard reception less than a minute into the quarter. The score moved to 28-14.
Not content to rest, the defense continued to stymie the Catamounts with Javon Felder batting down a Panther Creek pass on fourth and seven at the 50-yard line.
A possession later, Jalen Thorpe recovered a Catamount fumble in Panther Creek territory. Bryce Love was able to get his second touchdown of the night with just over seven minutes to play, locking in the scoreboard at 35-14.
“I was ready to come out here and play, I felt like I was more focused,” said Moore. “I just know to go hard, to not worry about it, to make that play, and to get in the end zone.”
“I think it (success) starts with the guys up front (on defense). In a spread offense, you’ve gotta keep it contained,” said coach Reggie Lucas. “Their number five (Dorrel McClain) is a very elusive back, and in the first half we let him move around a bit. But in the second half, I think we locked him down and really did well across the board.”
The now 15th-ranked Cougars advance to the second round and will play Friday at Southern Pines against Pinecrest who is ranked 29th in the state with a record of 11-1.