CARY — Wake Forest beat Panther Creek in the first round of the 4A playoffs by a larger margin than in the season opener, but the Cougars said the 35-14 victory Friday was a much tougher test than the 28-14 victory three months ago.
Panther Creek (9-3) had won nine of 10 since the opener to earn the No. 5 seed and force No. 12-seeded Wake Forest (9-3) to come to its field this time.
“We got up on them the first time, but this time it was 14-14 at halftime,” Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas said. “It was definitely a tougher ballgame.”
Panther Creek went up 6-0 on its second possession when Dorrel McClain punched across the goal line from the 1-yard line midway through the first period.
The Catamounts’ defense stopped Wake Forest’s rushing attack until the Cougars found running room outside in the second quarter. Bryce Love scored on a 56-yard run and DeVante Reynolds on a 27-yard run for a 14-6 lead with 7:28 left in the first half.
Wake Forest’s defense stiffened after allowing the first score, but late in the second quarterback Brenden Magner connected on a 36-yard pass to Andre Payne. On the next play, McClain broke one tackle and stepped out of two shoestring diving efforts for a 33-yard score. Magner hit Matt Powell with a pass for the 2-point conversion and the halftime 14-14 tie.
In the second half, Wake Forest put away the game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but it was decided in the third quarter. The Cougars took the second-half kickoff and drove 65 yards in 11 plays and nearly six minutes to score on quarterback Mack Moore’s 1-yard plunge.
On the ensuing possession, Panther Creek appeared to hit a 40-yard-plus pass inside Wake Forest’s 20-yard line, but that ball was tipped, bobbled and juggled before it floated into the hands of Wake Forest linebacker Norman Cade.
With Love running 17 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns and Reynolds 11 times for 83 yards and one TD and catching three passes for 53 yards and a TD, the Cougars controlled the ball in the second half.
“Coach decided to switch it up and change the plays,” Love said. “Every man on this team has a role, and the downfield blocking is something we’re taught. This was a tough game. It’s tough to beat a team twice.”
Panther Creek’s season was a turnaround from 1-10 a year ago.
“It was a fantastic journey for our coaches and players,” Panther Creek coach Sean Crocker said. “Our players dedicated themselves and worked hard. I’m so proud of them. These guys came to work every day.”