When Wake Forest needed a play from its championship defense, they came through.
With 37 seconds remaining on the clock, Wake Forest stopped Vance quarterback Nigel Summerville in his own endzone, forcing a safety, all the points Wake Forest needed to secure its 45th straight win and its third straight 4AA title, winning 9-7.
“My hat goes off to this group of seniors,” Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas said. “They’ve been battled tested. We had a couple of close games that prepared us for this game. What a way to finish. It’s almost like I’m speechless after winning a game like that.”
After a Nolan Parris 22-yard field goal attempt was blocked, Vance got the ball at the one. On the first play, Summerville bobbled the snap as he tried to hand it off to Andre White, Jr. Summerville bounced on the ball, but he was in the endzone and suddenly found the entire Wake Forest defense on top of him. Wake Forest then recovered the Vance onside kick attempt and got in the victory formation to secure its third straight state championship.
“Basically the quarterback got the snap and fumbled the ball a little bit,” championship game MVP Mateo Sudipo said. “He was about to hand it off and fumbled it and it was right in the endzone.”
The fourth quarter was full of drama after the first three quarters only produced 14 combined points. After Vance failed to convert a 3rd and 9, the ball rolled on the ground during the snap on the punt attempt, giving Wake Forest the ball on the 14. Wake Forest quickly moved into scoring position, and Lucas decided to try the 22-yard attempt from Parris on 4th and 1. The kick was blocked and Vance recovered with its back against the wall. Wake Forest, always strong on defense, came up with the big stop for the safety, setting off a celebration in the stands.
Wake Forest started the second half with a turnover when Sudipo was picked off by Jordan Harris. But Vance couldn’t take advantage, punting the ball after three plays. That was pretty much the highlight play of the third quarter as the teams headed into the final frame still knotted at 7.
Vance didn’t show any signs of nerves in their first appearance in a state title game. On the second play from scrimmage, Summerville dropped back and launched a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nyier Clark 23 seconds into the game.
“We just told (cornerback Chance Smith) to keep his head up,” linebacker Devon Grant said. “We knew they were going to try him again and he stepped up.”
Smith was named the east defensive player of the game, leading Wake Forest with 7 tackles.
That score was the first points Wake Forest allowed in three championship game appearances, coming into the contest having out scoring their previous two opponents 50-0.
Wake Forest would go three-and-out on its opening drive, but forced the games first turnover on the ensuing drive when Sudipo picked off Summerville and returned the ball 46 yards to the Vance 48. Wake Forest went on a 13 play, 52-yard drive to tie the game at 7. Maquel Haywood punched it in from the 3 after it appeared that Traevon Kenion scored two plays earlier. The official ruled that Kenion stepped out at the two. It didn’t matter that the play was overruled as Haywood got the points Wake Forest needed. Wake Forest kept the drive alive when Sudipo connected with Demarcus Jones on a fake punt that covered 14 yards.
Vance’s offense would continue to take shots, but the Wake Forest defense found its way, sacking Summerville once, and coming up with several tackles for loss against the hard running Vance backs. Vance came up with 71 yards on two plays on their opening drive, but only picked up 71 yards on 21 plays the rest of the game. Vance had a 53-yard score on a fake punt called back because of holding, and their biggest play after the 53-yard touchdown came on a 34-yard run from sophomore Joseph Morris.
Wake Forest, known for its ground game, had four plays that went for 10 yards or more, three of them came through the air.
The Wake Forest defense was especially stout in the second half, holding Vance to just 11 yards on 21 plays. Vance ran eight plays in the third quarter for one yard. Joseph Morris, who ran for 73 yards for an average of 10.4 yards per carry in the first half, finished with 70 yards.
“I think we got comfortable with what we were trying to do,” Lucas said. “The guys started picking up on some reads and playing a little tougher. I thought the defense was real gritty after giving up that big play in the first quarter.”
The senior class now leaves Wake Forest undefeated during their four-year careers after two perfect jayvee seasons and consecutive undefeated varsity seasons. Never losing during your high school career is quite the accomplishment for any team.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sudipo said. “It’s a dream come true, honestly.”
Grant, who finished with six tackles added, “it’s unheard of. We’re just thankful and hopefully it’ll continue next year.”