Clay Vick, junior quarterback, rolled out to his right, evaded a Wake Forest lineman and threw a nine-yard pass to Trey Keeney, senior tight end, in the endzone.
Leesville now trailed by 17 points with four minutes left. The crowd on the visitors’ sideline gave them a standing ovation.
The positive mood remained after the final minutes of the Pride’s 35-18 loss to the host Cougars on Friday at Trentini Stadium ticked off. Leesville (5-4, 3-2 Cap-8) had held undefeated Wake Forest (9-0, 5-0) to their second-smallest margin of victory of 2014 and, despite the three-score loss, proved their legitimacy heading into next week’s highly anticipated rivalry game against Millbrook.
“We proved we can play with really good teams,” said Mike Hobgood, head coach. “We really think we’re improving each week.”
With Wake Forest inside the Leesville 20-yard line and threatening to go ahead 28-6 just before halftime, Patrick Rice, junior linebacker, jumped a screen pass and returned the interception 83 yards, sending the Leesville sideline into a frenzy. Mike Dehaney, senior running back, punched in the 2-yard touchdown one play later; although the two-point conversion attempt was batted down, the Pride had found new life at the break.
“Patrick made a great play,” said Hobgood, noting that the momentum gained made it “much easier to get up for the second half.”
The Cougars, however, snatched back control of the game with a 59-yard run from Bryce Love to extend the lead to 28-12 with 5:32 left in the third quarter. Love, the 18th best RB in the nation according to ESPN, added a 35-yard scamper to put his team up 35-12 early in the fourth quarter. Love accumulated 232 yards (157 rushing) and four touchdowns in the game.
The chilly night began in perfect fashion for Leesville. The defense recovered a fumble at the Wake Forest 42-yard line, then three third- or fourth-down conversions from Vick led to a Dehaney touchdown to make it 6-0.
But the Cougars responded with three consecutive touchdowns, including a 31-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown throw from QB Mack Moore (4-of-6, 112 yards) to Love, to grab the 21-6 second-quarter advantage.
Vick completed an impressive 24 of 31 attempts for 213 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, although most were short, quick passes in the flat. Elisiah Richardson, senior receiver, hauled in 131 receiving yards, while Conner Eller, senior receiver, added 52 yards. Dehaney was well-contained by Wake Forest’s stacked defensive line, which held him to 21 carries for 39 yards. The Cougars out-gained the Pride by a 429-245 margin.
A plethora of 4th-down attempts that fell short — many by mere feet or inches — haunted Leesville, preventing them from ever pulling within a single score. The Pride also failed to convert any point-after-touchdown tries, as the extra point was blocked on the first touchdown and both later two-point conversion attempts were stopped.
Leesville will host rival Millbrook (7-2, 4-1) next Friday — Halloween night — seeking revenge for last year’s 24-21 home loss in the first round of the playoffs. Fans should expect emotions, tempers and excitement to all run high.