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Cougars down Huskies in shootout to win NAC 6

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WAKE FOREST — Both Wake Forest and Heritage football had no trouble scoring in their rivalry showdown Friday night, but the Cougars got the big win at home 52-26 to win the NAC 6 conference championship. Wake Forest took a 28-0 lead within the first 20 minutes of the contest. Heritage cut the deficit to 28-14 at halftime to make it an interesting game. However, the Cougars pulled away in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 24-12 to finish the night as conference champions. “We had decent field position off turnovers,” Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas said. “We finished in the red zone, which is very important. That helped us early in the game.” Wake Forest quarterback Noah Douglas led the offensive outburst with two touchdown passes. One to Kahlil Watson and the other to D.J. Sellers. The senior also added a 25-yard rushing touchdown. “I’m proud of how my guys played in the first half,” Douglas said. “I give a lot of credit to my offensive line.” With Douglas as the dual threat quarterback, the Cougars have scored more than 40 points in eight games this year. The transfer from Rolesville High School has excelled on the field with 12 touchdown passes and seven rushing touchdowns so far in his senior season. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a player,” Douglas said. “I’m looking to improve each week after every game.” Another standout player for Wake Forest was Watson. The junior made plays all over the field. He accomplished a rare feat where he scored a receiving touchdown, blocked a field goal, recorded a sack and picked off an interception in the same game. Watson said he wanted to make up for the time lost after missing the last game due to an ejection against Rolesville two weeks ago. “I had to ball out for my teammates tonight after coming back from suspension,” Watson said. “I had a lot on my shoulders. I just corrected myself and we all played well.” Lucas complimented Watson for his versatility and being an integral part of the team, both offensively and defensively, as well as special teams. “We know what kind of athlete Kahlil is,” Lucas said. “He can make plays in any ball game. You have to have him on the field every week.” Most of Wake Forest’s points also came from running the ball. Elijah Hines scored on a 62-yard sprint and a 25-yard run. Chris Moore broke off a 53-yard rushing touchdown. Lucas said the offensive line helped open holes for his players to run through against Heritage.

“We talked about executing our assignments on the offensive line,” Lucas said. “When our offensive linemen pull and run harder, they can make big plays.” Even though Wake Forest held the lead the entire game, Heritage did not give up. The Huskies cut the deficit to 42-26 in the third quarter. However, the Cougars held strong in the fourth, keeping Heritage out of the end zone. Heritage quarterback Walker Harris threw four touchdown passes, but Wake Forest’s defense also intercepted him three times. Chance Smith and Watson picked off a pass and early in the third quarter, Damien Peacock returned an interception 25 yards for a pick-six touchdown. “We knew Heritage could strike at any time,” Lucas said. “They have a bunch of playmakers over there. Their quarterback, Walker Harris, can throw the ball all over the field. We wanted our guys to play all four quarters. We didn’t want to beat ourselves up when we gave up those big plays.” During halftime, Wake Forest honored former running back Bryce Love by retiring his jersey. Love was a Heisman Trophy runner-up as a running back at Stanford University. He is now a rookie in the NFL for the Washington Redskins. “When I became a head coach, there were certain things I wanted to check off my personal list,” Lucas said. “One of those things was to get guys in the NFL. If we got them there, I want to retire their jersey. That’s what tonight with Bryce Love was about.” Speaking of Wake Forest running backs, the Cougars will be without their star player Maquel Haywood for the rest of the season. The senior injured his knee earlier in the year and it turned out to be a torn ACL, meaning his high school playing career is over. Lucas said the players wanted to honor their teammate on senior night by getting the big win for him. “Maquel has put his heart into this program,” Lucas said. “His parents raised him the right way. He’s a professional high school student athlete. For him to tear his ACL again, I know he’s devastated. Having him hang in there says a lot about his character.” With their first NAC 6 conference loss of the season, Heritage dropped to 7-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play. The Huskies will still have a decent position to make a 4A state playoff run. With the NAC 6 conference championship win, Wake Forest finished the regular season 10-1 and undefeated in conference play at 5-0. Lucas said the players have to get ready for the postseason by doing what they do best: working on the fundamentals. “We want to heal up and figure out who are opponent is so we can study them,” Lucas said. “We have to focus on doing the little things right. We’ve gotten this far by focusing on the fundamentals of football.” “Our main thing going forward is to execute the plays,” Watson said. “We just have to keep running our game until it’s perfect.”