Wolverines knock off Leesville to take sole possession of No. 1 spot
by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
RALEIGH — A back-and-forth battle ended in the favor of the Wakefield football team Friday as the Wolverines took down Leesville Road 34-31 to claim the Cap 8 Conference Championship.
Nothing came easy for Wakefield though and it was more of the last second heroics with their backs against the goal line.
With the league title at stake between the top two teams in the conference, the Wolverines came up with one of their biggest plays of the season to preserve their tenth win.
There were three seconds remaining in the game when Leesville Road quarterback Malcolm Hitchcock released a pass into the end zone that was caught by Braxton Berrios, however the score was called back after the Pride were flagged for an illegal shift.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, however, we have to respond positively and move on,” said Leesville Road football coach Chad Smothers. ‘There is really no other option, if you’re a competitor.”
Leesville Road was given another down and their attempted pass was deflected by a swarm of Wolverines.
“We have come together as a team,” said Wakefield football coach Rod Sink, “and that’s probably the biggest difference with this team and last year’s team.”
“We have been down in most of our games this season but have always found a way to come back,” Sink added. “Tonight we never gave up and that was the key to our win.”
After the game, Sink called his team “overachievers.”
“Our players have overachieved all season long,” he said. ‘We’re much improved this season.”
“Our players have played hard all season,” he added.
After losing a majority of their talent to graduation last season, many were skeptical on how Wakefield would respond this season.
Even Sink said this year’s team is not as talented as last season’s but the difference is that his players are better teammates.
The team has overcome adversity to win the program’s first conference championship since 2005 and the first time that the Wolverine seniors have beaten Leesville Road.
“I’ve been here four years and it’s the first time, we have defeated them,” said senior defensive lineman Tevin Hargrove. “We have worked so hard and to end the regular season with a win over Leesville Road and a conference championship is just great.”
“I am excited and very happy,” Hargrove added.
Senior defensive lineman Rey Gil said words cannot express how he feels about the win.
“We practiced hard for Leesville Road and did what we had to do to beat them,” he said. “We are such a close team and a different team from last year.”
Brabrand, a senior, threw to seven different receivers and completed 25 of 38 passes for 286 yards.
“We played as a team and it’s a great win for us,” Brabrand said. “Winning the Cap 8 championship hasn’t hit me yet.”
If fans were expecting an offensive shootout between Wakefield and Leesville Road they were not totally disappointed. And if they were looking to hard hitting defenses and big plays, they walked away from Leesville Road’s field pleased.
“It was definitely a game for football fans,” Sink said, “and you could not ask for anything better.”
The late game dramatic finishes continued for the Wolverines after falling behind 14-0 after the first quarter of play.
“Wakefield’s never quit attitude led to the outcome of the game,” Smothers said. “I told our staff midway through the third quarter that I thought the game might come down to the last team with the ball.”
“I knew Wakefield would rally and put up a fight,” Smothers added.
Leesville Road took the opening kick-off and drove 66 yards in five plays for their first score.
Wakefield reached the 19 yard line of Leesville Road on its first possession of the game before a bad snap resulted in a fumble, which was recovered by the Pride.
Both teams exchanged punts and Leesville Road put together another drive and marched 70 yards for their second score. Malcolm Hitchcock ran in from one yard out with 3:05 left in the first quarter and the Pride held a 14-0 lead.
Wakefield started putting things together when Nick Dennis’ 19-yard run set up the Wolverines first score at the start of the second quarter. A throw up the middle from Brabrand to Josh Lowery from five yards out got Wakefield on the board. Charles Morris’ extra point kick was good and the Wolverines tightened the Pride’s lead to 14-7.
“I knew this would be a competitive game and I knew it would be a battle,” Lowery said. “It’s very exciting especially since no one expected us to be here but we knew as a team we could be here.”
Leesville Road threatened again before halftime but Wakefield defensive back Mike Shelton stopped any hopes of them scoring when he intercepted a pass in the end zone.
With the Pride still clinging to a 14-7 lead it enjoyed at halftime, the Wolverines responded at the start of the second half. They scored two back to back touchdowns; including a 28-yard run by Kelton Whitehead to take a 20-14 lead with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
The Pride answered with a field goal and regained the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter on a one-yard run by Hitchcock with 9:31 left in the game.
Wakefield and Leesville Road were both forced to punt on their next possession.
The Wolverines picked up four first downs on its next drive, thanks to a couple of pass interference calls on the Pride and found themselves on the Leesville Road’s four-yard line.
Brabrand broke the ice and scored with a touchdown keeper with 3:03 left in the game. Morris’ point after kick gave Wakefield a 27-24 lead.
After the scoring drive, Leesville Road went back on top 31-27 with 1:32 remaining in the game.
Wakefield answered immediately and pulled off a successful scoring drive that started on its own 31 yard line. Lowery caught a couple of Brabrand’s passes along the way and made it to the Pride’s 35-yard line. A play later Brabrand connected with Dennis for what would turn out to be the winning score for Wakefield.
The Wolverines, a one seed, in the 4AA state playoffs will host Green Hope, 5-6, tomorrow (Friday) at 7:30 p.m. in the first round.