The Wake Forest Cougars earned a bruising three-peat in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA football championship over rugged Zebulon B. Vance of Charlotte with a white-knuckle 9-7 victory Friday night.
Wake Forest capped its 14-0 season with its 45th straight win in an old-fashioned donnybrook of smashmouth football at Wallace Wade Stadium on the Duke University campus. But they did so in a fit of last-second suspense.
With the game tied 7-7, and under a minute on the game clock, Nolan Parris lined up on a fourth down for a 22-yard field goal attempt to seal the win.
But Vance linebacker Stefon Thompson came crashing through the line and blocked the kick, stunning the defending champions and setting Vance inside their own 1.
Vance quarterback Nigel Summerville lost the handle on the ensuing play and fell on the ball in his own end zone for a Wake Forest team safety that won the game with 32 seconds left.
Vance scored first on a 53-yard touchdown hurl from Summerville to wide receiver Nyier Clark just 23 seconds into the game. Wake Forest running back Maquel Haywood tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter. Neither team was able to score in the middle quarters.
WAKE FOREST STREAK GROWS ON WILD FINISH
Quirky doesn’t do justice to Wake Forest’s hard-fought but unusual win.
“What a way to finish,” said Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas. “It’s almost like I’m speechless after a game like that. It’s just such a hard-fought game.”
Wake Forest was stunned by Vance on a two-play, opening drive touchdown that covered 77 yards in 30 seconds. Lucas immediately called a timeout to regroup.
With Vance threatening to score again on its second possession from the Wake Forest 38-yard line, defensive back Mateo Sudipo intercepted a Summerville pass and ran it back to the Wake Forest 48.
“We were in zone coverage,” Sudipo said, acknowledging the play turned back a chance for Vance to take control of the game. “The ball was overthrown and I just took advantage of it.”
Sudipo then went under center to mount a 52-yard march to tie game 7-7. The 13-play drive gobbled 5:36 off the clock. The drive was kept alive on a clutch fourth down, 14-yard pass from Sudipo to running back Demarcus Jones.
For his efforts on both sides of the ball, Sudipo was named MVP of the game. Cornerback Chance Smith was named the Wake Forest defensive player of the game, Haywood the offensive player.
Smith made a key fourth-quarter play for Wake Forest when he sacked Summerville for an 11-yard loss to repel Vance back inside their own territory. What looked to be a promising drive stalled, and Wake Forest got the ball back.
Facing fourth down deep in their own territory with 2:58 to play, Vance committed a devastating miscue. The long snapper muffed the snap, squibbing it harmlessly across the turf. That set Wake Forest up at the Vance 13-yard line for a golden scoring opportunity.
But Wake Forest couldn’t penetrate a stiffened Vance defense, and Parris attempted a 22-yard field goal that was blocked.
Lucas said his players were downcast, but one of the coaches told them to go out and get a safety, and the whole team started yelling “safety.” One play later Wake Forest nailed Summerville behind the goal line, secured the triple title, and the Beast of the East claimed state bragging rights for another year.
VANCE CAPS BEST SEASON IN HEARTBREAKER
Z.B. Vance and coach Aaron Brand looked more than ready to bring home a N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA football championship to his long-suffering community in the Cougars’ first-ever title game.
And things started out on the right foot. On the opening drive of the game, Stefon Thompson collected the kickoff at the 10-yard line and scooted 13 yards.
Sophomore running back Joseph Morris eluded tacklers and blazed 24 yards on first down. Then quarterback Nigel Summerville and wide-open wide receiver Nyier Clark connected for second-down lightning on a 53-yard TD pass. James Palacios kicked the extra point to give the Cougars the early 7-0 lead in just 23 seconds.
But they would never score again.
“I wanted to do it so bad for the people who said we couldn’t,” Brand said in a thick voice, wiping away tears. “I wanted to bring something back to the city. … We kind of self-imploded a little bit,” putting the blame on himself, and applauding his players’ great 14-2 season.
Vance had a sterling opportunity to seize the momentum and a lead in the third quarter when safety Jordan Harris intercepted Wake Forest quarterback Mateo Sudipo at the Wake Forest 40-yard line and returned it 10 yards. But a holding penalty negated the runback, and Vance was forced to punt after losing a yard on the ensuing drive.
The Cougars were on the move again in the fourth quarter, advancing to the Wake Forest 44-yard line after converting on 4th-and-1 on a 2-yard rush by Andre White Jr. But an 11-yard sack contributed to a stalled drive.
The disaster struck on their final possession that resulted in Wake Forest’s game-winning safety.
Clark was named the Vance offensive player of the game. Linebacker Solomon Sutton was named the Cougars’ defensive player.