The Leesville football team recovered from a sluggish start then held on in the closing minutes for a critical 21-19 win over Wake Forest on Friday, Oct. 25 at Marshall L. Hamilton Stadium.
Malcolm Hitchcock, senior, intercepted a pass from Cougars quarterback Mack Moore on a two-point conversion attempt with 1:07 remaining. Spencer Eason-Riddle, junior, then recovered the ensuing onside kick to close out the victory.
“Coach [Chad Smothers] called us in and just called a basic defense,” said a relieved Hitchcock moments later. “We wanted to go after the quarterback; he managed to get it off and we intercepted it.”
Visiting Wake Forest (7-2, 3-2) out-gained Leesville (7-2, 4-1) by a whopping 457-204 margin, yet the Pride defense held strong when it mattered most. The unit forced three turnovers inside their own 30 yard line, held the Cougars to field goals on two deep first-half drives and blocked another field goal later on en route to the win.
The Pride offense didn’t make a single first down until the second quarter, but trailed only 6-0 with five minutes remaining in the half. Hitchcock turned a 3rd-and-1 situation into a 46-yard touchdown run to put Leesville ahead for the first time with 4:24 left.
Minutes later, Nate Duell, senior receiver, reeled in a 20-yard, over-the-shoulder Hitchcock pass to give the Pride a 14-6 halftime advantage.
Elisiah Richardson, junior receiver, ran Wake Forest’s opening second-half kickoff back for an electrifying 88-yard, 22-second touchdown to give Leesville a seemingly comfortable 21-6 cushion.
Yet the game was far from over. A 53-yard reception by Devante Reynolds cut the lead to 21-13 entering the fourth quarter. A late 10-yard touchdown run by Bryce Love then gave the Cougars the chance to tie on the conversion, but Leesville unleashed a four-man bullrush on Moore and forced a hopeless pass towards the goal line.
Hitchcock led the Pride with 19 carries for 104 yards in addition to three completions for 32 yards. Mike Dehaney, junior running back, tacked on 64 yards on 15 touches.
“It was a great game; a great team effort,” said Hitchcock. “Everybody said we couldn’t do it without No. 8 (injured captain Braxton Berrios), but we’re a team, and we’ve proven them wrong.”
Berrios’s return could be imminent, yet Leesville, entering the final two weeks of the regular season, feels confident in their chances regardless. Smothers pointed out several “miscues” that will be fixed in practice next week ahead of the annual rivalry game against Millbrook.
With Millbrook topping Heritage 21-16 and Wakefield knocking Broughton 55-35 in other Cap-8 action Friday, Leesville remains intermixed in a three-way tie for the Cap-8 conference lead. They’ll face both the Wildcats (away, Nov. 1) and the Wolverines (home/Senior Night, Nov. 8) in the two season-defining weeks that lie ahead.
For the weekend, however, the team is safe to enjoy Friday’s thrilling win. “Wake Forest made me into a man,” Hitchcock said. “It was a matter of who wanted it most, and we got the win.”