By Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKEFIELD — Wakefield High School’s football team made it count when it mattered Friday night.
After suffering through several turnovers, the resilient Wolverines escaped with a 14-13 victory over visiting Green Hope in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs.
The win sets up a second round meeting with Millbrook, which defeated Leesville Road 24-21 in their first round game. The Wildcats were a 40-19 winner against Wakefield during the regular season a month ago.
Against Green Hope, six critical miscues, including four interceptions, left Wakefield stuck in neutral for most of the night but their defense accelerated with big plays when they were absolutely needed.
Senior defensive back Mike Shelton returned a Green Hope kick to the 25-yard line, which set up Wakefield’s winning score with about five minutes left in the game. And Rey Gil, a senior defensive lineman put a stop on a last minute drive by the Falcons, sacking quarterback Luke Massei on a fourth down with 1:29 left in the game.
“I cannot even express how I got through to get the sack,” Gil said. “I just knew I went at him full speed.”
The Wolverines, 11-1, had a difficult time all night trying to get to Massei.
“We would be so close then he would get rid of the ball or somehow escape,” said Wakefield head coach Rod Sink. “Our defensive backs did a great job versus their receivers, which gave Rey the time to come up with the sack.”
Sink added that he was concerned that his team’s defense would lose their edge since they were on the field more than the offense.
“But they came through and along with our special teams made the difference in the game,” Sink said. “They both played an outstanding game.”
“The defense played their hearts out,” Sink added. “They are a reason we had the chance to win this game.”
Wakefield defensive back James White-Murry, who had eight tackles, said the defense was able to make big stops.
“We fought hard and just came out and got to it,” he said. “We knew we had to win so we stepped it up.”
There were four interceptions in the first seven minutes of the game with both Wakefield and Green Hope throwing two each.
“We were having an off night in the passing game,” Sink said. “So we had to resort to finding other ways to move the football. They were dropping eight defenders so we had to run the ball.”
Shelton picked off a Massei pass on the Falcons third series of the game and Green Hope’s John Nasif returned the favor right away when he intercepted a pass by Wolverine quarterback Evan Brabrand.
After a three and out Wakefield took possession again and after reaching mid field and getting a first down, Brabrand threw his second interception.
Six plays and two first downs later, the Wolverine’s Dallas McDougal’s interception gave Wakefield the ball back.
The Wolverines then started a drive and picked up three first downs on passes from Brabrand to Omari Williams and Jake Butler and a run by Nick Dennis.
The drive culminated on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brabrand to wide receiver Josh Lowery with 2:05 left in the first quarter. Charles Morris’ extra point kick gave Wakefield a 7-0 lead.
“We thought we found our rhythm after our first score but we were still shaky,” Brabrand said. “I wasn’t making good decision and it hurt us.”
Brabrand agreed with his coach that defense was the key.
“They won the game for us hands down,” he said. “They kept it close which gave us an opportunity to have to only score twice on an off night for the offense.”
After the Wolverine’s score, the game got interesting as both teams were flagged for three penalties each before the break.
Dennis snarled an interception but the play was called back after Wakefield was whistled for pass interference.
The Falcons, 5-7, started a drive right before halftime and reached inside the Wolverine’s 30-yard line before a sack by Gil ended the first half.
Green Hope opened the second half by marching 61 yards in eight plays and scored on a two-yard run by Demetrice Massenburg to tie the score at 7-7 with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter.
After both teams exchanged punts, the Falcons chewed up some time off the clock on a couple of possessions and drove downfield twice and took the lead at 13-7 on two field goals by Nolan Paussa.
Wakefield then used Shelton’s 50-yard run to set up the winning score.
Brabrand’s run took the Wolverines to the ten-yard line and following a complete pass, Brabrand ran in the right corner from one yard out and Morris’ point after gave Wakefield the 14-13 lead.
“Coach called the play and we saw the chance and took it,” Brabrand said. “The guys all did what we had to do on that last drive, which put us in a position to win the game and we did.”
Brabrand completed nine passes on 20 attempts for 92 yards. On the ground, Wakefield churned up 119 and 54 of those yards belonged to the quarterback.
Defensively, the Wolverines were led by Julian Drew and Andrew Lair with 11 and eight tackles, respectively.
“Green Hope is a good team, much better, than their record indicates,” Sink said. “If they wouldn’t have lost their starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, they may have challenged Middle Creek for a shot at the conference championship.”
“Coach Dixon had his team well prepared for us,” Sink added.