RALEIGH — Leesville Road quarterback Malcolm Hitchcock knew what was on the line Friday when his Pride team hosted Wake Forest in a battle of two of the top teams in the Cap Eight.
The Pride (7-2, 4-1) overcame a slow start to jump ahead before halftime, then stopped a Wake Forest 2-point conversion with just more than a minute remaining to take a 21-19 win.
Both teams were part of a four-way tie for the top spot in the conference entering the matchup. Leesville now sits tied with Millbrook and Wakefield, the teams the Pride closes the regular season against.
“We had a lot of people step up in this game,” Hitchcock said. “This was a great confidence booster. We decided we’re going to take these next three weeks, bear down and chip them off one at a time and win a conference championship, so that’s what we’re doing. This is the start of one.”
The game’s first three possessions ended with fumbles before Wake Forest (7-2, 3-2) lit up the scoreboard with two Zack Coates field goals.
Leesville Road’s offense sputtered early, struggling to move the ball in its first three drives. The Pride – still without Braxton Berrios who was injured more than a month ago – got going in the second quarter.
“We knew this was going to be a physical game, so I had to get my head right,” Hitchcock said. “I was on the sideline telling them, ‘We have to bear down. This is our conference championship on the line. This is our season on the line.’ Obviously we made it into the playoffs with this win, and it’s a really big confidence booster, and after that first possession when we scored we knew we could keep it going.”
Leesville picked up its initial first down midway through the period on a Hitchcock rush. Hitchcock accounted for all of the yards on that drive, including the 46-yard score that got the Pride on the board.
The Pride found the end zone again on its next drive when Hitchcock connected with Nate Duell on a 20-yard pass, putting Leesville ahead 14-6 at the half.
Hitchcock finished with 104 yards rushing on 19 carries
Elisiah Richardson gave Leesville another boost when he opened the half with a 90-yard kickoff return. Up 15 points with nearly an entire half to play, the Pride would hold on despite two second-half Wake Forest scores.
After a would-be touchdown was called back for holding midway through the third quarter, the Cougars settled for another field goal, but the Pride came up with a block. Wake Forest later found the end zone when Devante Reynolds (three receptions for 112 yards) hauled in a 54-yard reception to close the gap at the end of the quarter. Bryce Love (22 carries for 166 yards) pulled the Cougars within two points with 1:07 to play in the fourth on a 10-yard score.
The Cougars went for 2, but a scrambling Mack Moore couldn’t find a receiver, and Hitchcock came up with the ball for the Pride.
Leesville Road’s Spencer Eason-Riddle recovered the onside kick and the Pride ran down the clock for the win.
“We’ve come out and just dug in,” said Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers. “I challenged them back after the Heritage game. I told them, ‘If you handle this the right way, the month of October will be something you can look back on the rest of your life,’ and they’ve done that. ... I can’t be prouder of these kids. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’re resilient, so we need to enjoy this and refocus on Monday because they’re not going to get any easier.”