Cougars pull out solid defensive win to advance to ‘final four’
By David Allen
WAKE FOREST — It is oft-repeated that defense is the key to victory, and Wake Forest’s coach Reggie Lucas leads by this mentality. In the third round of the state playoffs it paid off again when the Cougars faced the Millbrook Wildcats, coming away with the 27-24 win after four overtimes.
Underscoring the importance of solid defence, both teams held each other scoreless in the second half, after ending the first 14-14.
The win was decided in quadruple overtime when the Cougars’ Zach Coats scored a ﬁeld goal to win 27-24.
First come, first served
Wake Forest received the opening kickoff and proceeded to march downﬁeld through the combined effort of short passes and runs that resulted in no loss of yards. After taking nearly five minutes of time off the clock, the Cougars’ possession ended with Devante Reynolds scoring from the 10-yard line. Coats was successful with the extra point kick and it was 7-0 with 7:08 left in the ﬁrst quarter.
“Me, personally, I came out mentally and physically ready,” Reynolds said. “I got the team together and told them it’s either do or die.” he added. “It’s made me a better team player, it’s made us come together as a team — if we continue to play as a team, I believe we will win this state championship.”
For the rest of the quarter neither team was able to make headway due to solid defensive plays.
“We try to win games off of heart. And our defense is based off of heart,” said Cougar cornerback Kendall Massey. “We cover each other’s tails, we’ve got each other’s backs.”
Starting the second quarter with the ball on their 29, the Cougars were only able to gain 6 yards before punting it back to the Wildcats.
Millbrook started on their 46 and quickly moved down the ﬁeld with passes to Brandon Goldsmith being the backbone of the drive. It landed them on the Cougars’ 21-yard line on a fourth down and four to go.
Millbrook set up to kick a field goal, but instead faked the play with holder Brian Miller making a pass to Sam Blue for a touchdown, tying it up 7-7 with 6:48 left in the half.
The Cougars responded with a quick drive, which resulted in a massive 68-yard touchdown pass to Reynolds by Mack Moore moving Wake Forest ahead 14-7.
Millbrook answered right out of the gun with a 46-yard run by Raul Oquendo setting them up on the Cougars’ 44.
Two plays later quarterback Lemar Harris threw a 33-yard pass to Goldsmith for another touchdown, tying the score at 14-14.
No checkmate, yet, but a draw
Through the remainder of the game, the two teams found themselves in an offensive stalemate, unable to gain breathing room against each other’s defensive squads.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter had a little over two minutes left that Millbrook fumbled the ball which was recovered by Wake Forest deep in Wildcat territory.
Unfortunately, a questionable face mask foul was called, prompting the referees to visibly argue for a few minutes until they returned the ball to Millbrook, calling a 15-yard penalty on on the Cougars.
“I think our defense does a great job of working together,” said coach Reggie Lucas. “We talk about adversity and playing through the whole game — we did not drop our head and we kept playing through it.”
In spite of having to give up the ball, Wake Forest was able to hold the Wildcats in check, forcing them to run the clock out with a knee, ending regulation time and sending the game to overtime.
Teams trade points again
The Wildcats won the second coin toss but deferred to the Cougars who elected to begin with offense.
In four quick runs, Wake Forest’s Reynolds slipped into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night making it 21-14.
Millbrook responded just as fast with a quarterback keeper by Harris to tie it again at 21-21.
In the second overtime both teams were unable to make o headway and instead opted for field goals ending the second overtime 24-24
During the third overtime, in an attempt to avoid a sack, Cougar quarterback Mack Moore chucked a lateral pass that was scooped up by the Wildcats, ending Wake Forest’s drive and giving Millbrook potential game-winning advantage.
It looked like the end for the Cougars considering all Millbrook’s kicker, Jarret Cervi, had to do was make a field goal. And Cervi has been known to make 40-yard goals and even longer with ease.
Millbrook used one down to put the ball in the middle of the field. And then the unthinkable happened — Cervi’s short 27-yard kick missed.
Wake Forest elected to stay on defense first for the fourth overtime period.
“We felt hot, we felt ready so we wanted to stay on the field.” said defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
Proving the defense correct, and stepping up to save the day, Wake Forest’s Norman Cade scooped up an interception ending the Wildcat drive.
In a moment of deja vu, Reynolds fumbled the ball on the first down when he missed the handoff. He immediately flipped around and fell on the ball, preserving Wake Forest’s chance to win.
The Cougars then used a down to line up the kick. Coats sent it right into the center of the uprights, ending the night’s nail biting game, 27-24.
After the back thumping and dozens of congratulatory hugs, Coats explained his calm: “I was just trying to keep my head down, and focus on my job,” he said.
Now ranked 10th in state by Maxpreps.com, the Cougars have little time to rest on their laurels before they face No. 25 Middle Creek in Apex Friday for the East Regional title. The winner of that game will play for the state title. Game time is at 7:30 p.m.
—Clellie Allen contributed to this story.