While the Wake Forest Cougars won their 33rd consecutive football game on Friday, pulling away late to down Richmond Senior 49-28 before a huge crowd of spectators at Trentini Stadium, I think this game may best be remembered as a coming out party, or a resurgence of sorts for the Raiders.
Very few, if any programs in North Carolina can string together a bunch of 11, 9, 8 & 7-win seasons over a seven-year stretch and call it a disappointing outcome, but that goes to show you expectations, and level of dominance the fans in Rockingham have come to expect.
The game started out as everything you could hope for in a big-time match-up between Top-10 opponents. The teams were trading scores like heavy weight fighters and waiting for the first opponent to blink, and it became very obvious to me that Wake Forest is every bit the football powerhouse that we expected them to be.
I could tell from the first moments arriving on campus that the players in the Wake Forest program were all about business. You could see it in their eyes, and by the time the team and coaches arrived on the field, the pregame warm-ups were being executed with precision timing and head football coach Reggie Lucas was like the CEO steering the ship and managing every aspect of their drills and preparation.
I’ve been around a lot of programs in my day and you can see very quickly those who are well coached and those who aren’t. It was like a military operation, everything was dress-right-dress, and every player was responding to their assistant coaches demands and doing so with impeccable timing.
It was even more evident how strong this program had become when they hit the field. The Cougars were dominating the offensive line and blowing the Raiders defenders off the ball and creating running-lanes that you could drive a car through.
The simple fact of the matter is that Wake Forest is every bit as good as advertised and maybe a bit better than we all think.
However, the reason I’m writing this column the way I am, calling it a Raider coming-out-party is simple. Had it been nearly any other team in North Carolina of lesser stature and ability and Wake Forest would have won that game 77-0. The Cougars were on their ‘A-game’, they made very few mistakes, and showed us all why they’re back-to-back 4AA State Champs.
But that blowout didn’t happen.
The Raiders didn’t allow themselves to hang their head. They stood toe-to-toe with the Cougars and came close to answering every deathblow or knockout punch that Wake Forest delivered.
If fans across the state didn’t know who Caleb Hood was entering this season, they should take notice now. In Friday’s contest, the Raiders final tally of offensive production was 333 yards, but Hood, a sophomore quarterback, accounted for 265 yards on his own and showed an amazing ability to extend plays, look for contact when running, and more importantly have the courage under fire and wherewithal to remain poised under pressure and deliver a deep pass to an open receiver.
I came away from the game feeling that Hood reminded me of former N.C. State quarterback and current Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson, because he just refused to let plays die and against all odds escaped defenders to extend a play for a big gain.
Ultimately, the Raiders did fall short, most likely because they were unable to make crucial stops on 3rddown situations and didn’t have an answer for the strength of the Cougars lines, but I think head coach Bryan Till and his staff will be able to find a lot of positives from this contest, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see these two fine programs meet again down the road in the 4AA playoffs.
The Raiders will be at home next Friday when they host Pine Forest, but they’ll get another opportunity to shine on a big stage in two weeks when they travel up Highway 74 to Matthews to face the Butler Bulldogs.
Wake Forest will have another tough game this Thursday as they travel to Apex to face Middle Creek.