Undefeated rivals battle for NAC-VI title

Both Wake Forest and Heritage hope to claim the first-ever title of the new athletic conference.


Chloe Browne

The Cougar defense, which has allowed only 72 points on the season, hopes to fend off the Husky passing and rushing attack. The defense has three shutouts on the season in 10 games thus far.

Kerrigan Zambrana and Austin Julian

The defending 4AA state champion football team felt confident as they concluded their non-conference season Sept. 22 with a victory over Franklinton 49 to 10.

Senior safety and UNC commit Javon Terry acknowledged the team’s success.

“We’re on a roll, and we’re nailing all our assignments,” Terry said.

The season opened with three marquee match-ups that were expected to test the resolve of the team: Millbrook, Middle Creek, and Richmond senior.

Millbrook is a former Cap-8 rival, while the Cougars had faced the Middle Creek Mustangs twice in the Easter Regional final to go on to the state championship.

Richmond senior is a perennial playoff team with several state championships in their school’s history. The Cougars, however, made light work of all three: 34 to 7, 38 to 13 and 55 to 16.

“I thought we played great. We looked good on offense and defense,” senior quarterback Chris James said.

In fact, the team outscored their non-conference competition 253 to 53 headed into their bye week after Franklinton.

Cautiously acknowledging their success, Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs coach Ivan Braszo hoped to move humbly throughout their conference play.

I would say that when you’re winning and you’re on top, everyone’s always after you, and everybody’s grinding to get where you’re at. You have to keep that fire inside you and not get ahead of yourself. One game at a time

— coach Ivan Braszo

,” Braszo said.

Headed into conference play, senior linebacker Seth Williams kept the team grounded.

“We’ve played good, but we need to stay goal driven and remember what happened to us two years ago,” Williams said.

Greensboro Page knocked the team out of the playoffs in the second round in 2015 and eventually advanced to the state championship that year.

For the team, like all the fall sports, this conference season marked the inaugural entry into the NAC-VI. The team would face new foes in Corinth Holders, Knightdale and Rolesville and old Cap-8 rivals Wakefield and Heritage.

While Corinth Holders presented a bit of mystery, few fans expected much adversity from Knightdale or Rolesville, having faced them before.

The Cougars blanked the Knights 42 to 0 to open conference play at home and routed the Rams 42 to 6 as well. The Pirates of Corinth Holders fared little better on their home field, falling 54 to 16.

Winning games by such margins, it might become easy for players to become complacent and unprepared before finally facing a challenging opponent.

Braszo and the other coaches put faith in their simple formula.

“Just keep doing what we’ve done over the last years. Approach every game the same: study our opponent, prepare for our opponent, come out and play as hard as we can on Friday night.”

The Wakefield Wolverines and the Cougars are long-time rivals, and while the rivalry between Wake Forest and Heritage has heated up in recent years, it’s the Wolverines who have been the most hated Cougar foe. This rivalry is enshrined in the Predator trophy, which goes to the winning football team each season.

The Wolverines hosted the Cougars Oct. 27, but unlike years past the match up lost some of its luster this year. Under new head coach Brandon Kelly the team lined up against the undefeated Cougars without having earned a victory on the season.

The unrelenting Cougars notched their third shut-out of the season 56 to 0, and the Wolverines went on to finish 0-11 on the year.

Not much different than the non-conference season, the Cougars routed their first four conference opponents by scoring 194 and allowing only 19.

But one more opponent loomed on the horizon, and this team was not having a down season. The Heritage Huskies were the last conference opponent of the season, and like the Cougars they enter the Nov. 3 contest undefeated.

Talked about heavily all season, it has been known that Heritage would be our toughest rival in the newly minted NAC-VI.

“It’s going to be the biggest game of the season, but we have to come out like it’s any other game and prepare the same we do as any other game,” senior safety Drew Homecheck said.

Both teams are known for their ability to run the ball. Husky back Ricky Person enters the game with 177 carries and 1873 rushing yards. The Cougar duo of Devon Lawrence and Marquis Dunn enter the match up with 1,521 combined yards on 185 combined carries.

Lawrence, who plans to announce his college choice after the game, has used football to help him achieve goals off the field as well as on.

“Football, it’s given me a lot. I became more responsible, became a better person,” Lawrence said.

James leads his team into the game with 1,305 passing yards to Husky quarterback Gunnar Holmberg’s 2085 yards.

One of James’ favorite targets, senior wide receiver Lex Goodwin hopes the Cougars can keep their undefeated 26-0 streak alive. The team hasn’t lost a regular season game since Nov. 1, 2013 and haven’t lost since the defeat by Page in the 2015 play offs.

Goodwin hopes to, “leave a mark. Try to do better than last year. Keep the streak alive. Leave on a good note.”