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WAKE FOREST — Defense was the highlight of the night as Wake Forest's football team shut out Hoggard 13-0 to win the third round of the 4AA state playoffs at home Friday.
The last time the Cougars played Hoggard, it was when they beat the Vikings 33-23 Sept. 13, 2013. Wake Forest didn't put up as many points this time, but the defense played even better.
The Cougars got off to a hot start with a blocked punt in the first quarter. From there, Hoggard only made it past the 50-yard line three times the rest of the game.
Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas said his defense played better than expected against a highly respected Hoggard offense.
“Getting a shutout this late in the season is huge,” Lucas said. “Hoggard gives you so many different formations. We had a lot to prepare for. I didn’t know how well we were going to play. I’m extremely proud of the guys for playing hard and being in the right spots.”
While the defense was stellar, the offense was lacking for Wake Forest. They only scored two field goals from Austin Riley to give them a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, both Hoggard and Wake Forest caused a turnover on defense. However, neither of them capitalized on their offensive possessions and the halftime score was still 6-0.
In the third quarter, Wake Forest scored the first and only touchdown of the game. Back-up quarterback Chad Hillman threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Kahlil Watson. The ball was under-thrown, but Watson came back, snagged it out of the air among double coverage and then sprinted to the end zone for the touchdown.
That made the score 13-0 and the Cougars held onto that lead for the rest of the game. Linebacker Fuller Howard recovered two fumbles, one in each of the final two quarters. Watson intercepted a Hoggard pass with two and a half minutes left in the game.
Wake Forest caused five turnovers against Hoggard and safety Cody Britt recovered two of them. The senior recovered the blocked punt in the first quarter and recovered a fumble in the second quarter.
“We wanted to stop the run first against Hoggard,” Britt said. “We did that with the defensive line and we just piggy-backed off of them. The linebackers played a great game as well.”
Even though Wake Forest celebrated the playoff win, they still experienced somewhat of a loss as well. Starting quarterback Noah Douglas got injured in the first quarter on a pitch option play. He limped off the field favoring his left knee.
“Noah going down with a serious injury is probably the biggest story of the night,” Lucas said. “I don’t expect him back for the rest of the season. The way he came off the field, he didn’t look good.”
Despite the setback, Hillman, who has never thrown a pass in his varsity career, still guided the Cougars to a win. Britt said it's been that way all season for Wake Forest.
The Cougars have lost multiple players to season-ending injuries, including starting running back Maquel Haywood and a couple of starting offensive linemen. No matter what, Wake Forest has still won 12 straight games.
“Everybody is ready to come in to play,” Britt said. “If someone goes down, the next guy is ready to go in. Chad Hillman did a great job for us to carry us to the win.”
With the win, Wake Forest will play in the 4AA east regional final for the fourth year in a row. The Cougars will take on undefeated Leesville Road, who is coming off a 41-7 win against Garner.
“We’ve got to watch Leesville on film, because we haven’t seen them all year,” Lucas said. “I know they are a big team. I know they have some solid players. They have a good coaching staff.”
The last time Wake Forest played Leesville Road, they beat them 31-18 at home Sept. 7 last year. The Cougars are hoping for a similar result in the state semifinals.
“It’s going to be a good atmosphere against Leesville Road,” Britt said. “It should be fun. We’re going to do what we do against every other team and come out with the win.”
Wake Forest will play Leesville Road at home Friday Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.