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STANHOPE — As far as nonconference tests are concerned, the Southern Nash High varsity football team could have asked for no sterner challenge than what awaited them in Wake Forest in Firebirds Stadium on Friday night.
But in dropping a 35-0 decision to the defending North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-AA champions, Southern Nash showed that it was up to taking on the down-by-down task of facing the Cougars’ wing-T attack.
Southern Nash actually matched Wake Forest’s rushing output in the first half at 108 yards, but a pair of tough fourth-down plays in the first quarter allowed the 4-A Northern Athletic Conference Cougars (5-0), ranked atop The Associated Press state 4-A poll, to claim an early 14-0 advantage.
After giving up a long kickoff return, Southern Nash, No. 9 in the AP 3-A rankings, was placed in a fourth and 7 from its 26-yard line. Wake Forest ran a play-action fake and threw the ball to a wide-open Marquis Dunn, but Dunn appeared to drop the pass from quarterback Seth Hillman. However, the back judge ruled that Dunn possessed the ball long enough to score a touchdown. Southern’s defense held on Wake Forest’s next series, but a fake punt placed the ball in the hands of running back Devon Lawrence, who scampered 37 yards to the end zone to put the visitors up 14-0.
“I thought in the first half, it was pretty much even except for those couple of pass plays,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “We’re not bad. And I really think we held up in the second half; we just lost people. That’s the thing that’s different with us and them. They’ve got twice as many students as we’ve got, they should have a few more players.”
Southern Nash (4-1) of the 3-A Big East Conference opened the second quarter by recovering a Wake Forest fumble at its 9-yard line. With the aid of three personal foul penalties on the drive, the Firebirds moved to the Wake Forest 16. However, with the first of two trips inside the Cougars’ red zone, the Firebirds were bogged down by a holding call and an intentional grounding, bringing forth the punting team.
Lawrence, who rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries, scored the second of his three TDs on a 1-yard plunge with 4:34 left until halftime to put the Firebirds in a 21-0 halftime hole.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Wake Forest tacked on two more TDs in the fourth on a 21-yard dash from Lawrence and a 10-yard blast from running back Demarcus Jones.
Zonovan Knight led the Firebirds with 87 yards on 11 carries.
“Coach Foster does a great job of getting these guys to play hard every Friday night,” Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas said. “We have never played them since I’ve been the head coach, and if we had to play this game every night, our kids would definitely be sore the next day. So they played us tough.”
Foster didn’t disagree, despite the final score.
“I think we’re a good football team,” he said. “We’re planning on being good.”