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WAKE FOREST — Wake Forest’s football program has been the picture perfect example of success for the past few years. But after losing to Leesville Road in the 4A east regional championship, are the Cougars no longer favorites to win the title next year?
Wake Forest has been one of the most dominant football teams in the state for more than a decade. Starting back in 2007, the Cougars posted double-digit wins in 12 out of their last 13 seasons. Any team would agree that kind of consistency is quite remarkable.
It wasn’t until 2010 that they made their first 4AA state championship game. Wake Forest was humiliated by Butler High School of Matthews in a 44-0 shutout.
Then in 2013, Wake Forest made it back to the 4AA state championship match to face off against Mallard Creek of Charlotte, but that also ended in defeat with a final score of 59-21.
The very next year, Wake Forest went 15-1, starting the undefeated regular season win streak. However, that one on the win-loss column was another loss to Mallard Creek in a 4AA state championship rematch at 25-14.
In 2015, Wake Forest was on pace to get back to the state title game for the third year in a row. They boasted a talented roster and had finally established a winning culture.
Those hopes were dashed when Wake Forest faced an early exit in the 4AA state playoffs, losing to Page High School of Greensboro 30-21 in the second round.
At that point, it looked like Wake Forest was going backwards after building up so much momentum. Then 2016 came around.
The Cougars went undefeated for the first time in school history, going a perfect 16-0. That 16th win was a 29-0 shutout over Page in the 4AA state championship game. The rematch was sweet revenge for Wake Forest, as they beat the team who knocked them out of the playoffs a year prior to win their first state title in school history.
Fans around Wake Forest know the rest. The Cougars went undefeated again in 2017 and then beat Mallard Creek 21-0 in the 4AA state championship, a rematch victory that proved that Wake Forest was a serious contender.
In 2018, Wake Forest won the state title again, beating Vance High School 9-7 after going undefeated for the third year in a row. That increased Wake Forest’s win streak to 45 games.
Then in the season opener Aug. 23, a date that will live in infamy for Wake Forest fans, the streak was broken. The Cougars lost to Cardinal Gibbons 27-24 on their home turf.
People wondered if Wake Forest had finally lost their magic. Like Arnold Schwarzeneggar said in the movie “Predator”: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
However, Wake Forest responded positively after that devastating loss. The Cougars went on a 12-game win streak to win the NAC 6 conference championship and re-established themselves as the three-time defending 4AA state champs that they are.
Unfortunately for Wake Forest, injuries kept piling up over the season. Starting offensive linemen started to go down. Superstar running back Maquel Haywood went down with an ACL tear during the 41-14 win over Knightdale.
Probably the biggest injury, the final nail in the coffin for Wake Forest’s season, was when starting quarterback Noah Douglas went down with a leg injury in the playoff win over Hoggard Nov. 29 in the third round of the 4AA state playoffs.
After that game, Wake Forest lost to Leesville Road 21-10 in the 4AA east regional final Dec. 6. At that point, Wake Forest’s roster was drained against one of the best teams in the state.
Since the Cougars lost to the Pride, it could be argued that they are no longer the best team in the state, but also not the best team in Wake County. Rolesville is on the rise as a top program. Heritage hasn’t had a losing season since 2015. Even Knightdale finished 7-5 thanks to talented players such as Trevion Cooley and Aeneas Peebles.
So is this the end of an era for Wake Forest football? Are they no longer favorites to win the state championship next year?
The Cougars have silenced doubters before, so there’s no reason they can’t do it again. Despite losing some incredible senior players to graduation, Wake Forest is bringing back plenty of talent for next year.
Kahlil Watson, who recently committed to play baseball at N.C. State, will enter his senior year as one of the best all-around players in the state. He can play receiver, defensive back, linebacker and even took some snaps at quarterback.
Chad Hillman, who stepped in for the injured Douglas at quarterback, should be ready to go as a senior starter next year. Running back Chris Moore will return after posting 757 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a junior this year. Triston Spencer, another two-way player, will come back as a talented senior.
On defense, Wake Forest will bring back Cody Britt, Chris Allen, Matthew Baldwin, Fuller Howard and Isaiah Pipkin just to name a few.
Looking from the outside, it does seem that Wake Forest is going downhill. But this is a program built on proving people wrong and silencing the critics. The Cougars still have plenty of gas left in the tank to make another playoff push next year.
If Wake Forest can avoid serious injuries and stick to their guns by executing their assignments, Wake Forest can return from coming up short this season.
Marty Simpkins is the sports editor of The Wake Weekly. He can be reached at 919-424-1779 or email@example.com.