WAKEFIELD — In high school football, some games matter more to the fans than others.
Friday’s game between cross-town rivals Wakefield and Wake Forest is one of those games and one that has been circled since the start of the season.
The Wolverines, 6-0, and the Cougars, 6-0, are all set for tomorrow’s Cap 8 Conference showdown where both teams will be playing for a chance to remain unbeaten. Something has to give when they take the field but most importantly, the game will have an impact because the winner will claim first place in the league with a 3-0 record.
Every sign points to a game that will be exciting, hard fought and one that should not be decided until the final minutes.
Both have quality, top-notch football teams. Since 2004, the two teams have met 12 times and both have come away with six wins each. The Wolverines won three consecutive games then Wake Forest won four straight and the next two out of three. But in 2012, Wakefield defeated the Cougars twice; in the regular season 33-19 and in the first round of the 4A state playoffs 40-38.
“They have been the established league favorite year in and year out,” said Wakefield coach Rod Sink. “If you want to win the conference, Wake Forest is a team you have to find a way to beat.”
Sink expressed the importance of the match up with the Cougars and the significance of playing the game with pride.
“This is a huge game for us,” he said. “We’re both undefeated, we’re cross town rivals and whoever wins this game will be in the driver’s seat in the Cap 8 Conference.”
Both teams have been flying high since the opening week of the season.
Wakefield started the season with an impressive 40-28 win against Holly Springs. The Cougars defeated Cary 48-16 in their opener.
The Wolverines are coming off a 40-28 win at Enloe while the Cougars held on for a 31-25 victory against Millbrook.
Wakefield and Wake Forest are similar in that they are not shy about putting points on the board.
The Wolverines like to pass the ball and average about 250 yards in the air. Senior Evan Brabrand, a linebacker for the Wolverines during the past three years, has assumed the quarterback position and has not missed a beat since replacing Connor Mitch, one of the state’s top quarterbacks last season.
Already Brabrand has thrown for 1,500, completing 119 passes of 213 and 18 touchdowns.
It helps that he has a talented group of receivers. Senior Jake Butler has caught 30 of those throws, including six for touchdowns and leads the team in receiving yards with 326.
Receivers Josh Lowery, Mike Shelton and Omari Williams are targets for Brabrand too and each have over 200 yards in receptions.
Sink has not been taken aback about how the Wolverines have been so impressive, even though many of the names and faces are different from those of last year.
“Evan has become a leader and he’s one of the reasons why we have been successful,” he said. “Other players too were ready to step up and play and fill the holes left from those players from last season.”
Wakefield has been effective running the ball too and when they do, it’s usually Kelton Whitehead with the ball. He has churned up 542 yards on 76 carries along with 11 touchdowns.
The Cougars rather utilize their speed on the ground and have been rushing for about 300 yards each game.
Their ground game is led by junior Bryce Love, who has carried the ball 60 times for 814 yards and 16 touchdowns. Love, known for his quickness and finesse, gains an average of 130 yards a game and also has 170 kick-off return yards. He can break away from defenders for big gains.
“We have to find a way to get to Bryce before he can get going,” Sink said. “If he does get away, we will have a tough time catching him.”
“On special teams, we are going to have to rally around him to make sure he cannot get into the open field,” Sink added.
When Love is not running with the ball, two other players in Wake Forest’s backfield have rushed for over 400 yards including Jamal Sweet and Devonte Reynolds.
Mack Moore, the Cougars quarterback, has thrown 40 passes, completing 20 of those for 427 yards. Six of those catches and 113 yards belong to wide receiver Brooks Cunningham.
Wake Forest is averaging 39 points a game and has outscored its opponents 234-100 this season.
Wakefield has scored 221 points while allowing 118 and is putting close to 37 points on the board.
The two defenses will be tested as both teams use a diversified attack.
“Our defense has been our biggest improvement,” Sink said. “They have developed into a pretty good unit and hopefully we will find a way to slow down Wake Forest’s offense.”
Dallas McDougal, Rey Gil, Julian Drew, Tevin Hargrove and Marcus Spell spearhead the Wolverines defensive crew.
The Cougars play a tough swarming smart style of defense. They are aggressive and hard hitting from the opening whistle to the last tick on the game clock.
Outside linebacker Norman Cade leds Wake Forest in tackles with 37 and Javon Felder, an inside linebacker has 27.
Chris Leonard and Kendall Massey are also a threat to opposing receivers, having picked off seven interceptions between them each this season.
Sink said the keys to the game are simple.
“We have to find a way to stop their offense and find ways to score on their defense,” he said. “We’re going to have to take care of the football, limit their big plays and find ways to move the ball consistently.”
Game time is 7 p.m.
(Wake Forest football coach Reggie Lucas could not be reached for comments)