Eight seconds into Friday’s regular season finale, the Leesville football team committed its first turnover, fumbling on the opening kickoff return to give Wakefield the ball.
The first play proved an accurate foreshadow of the entire game to come. Seven turnovers, including five interceptions from junior quarterback Clay Vick, pushed the Pride into a big early deficit, and fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell short as Wakefield triumphed over Leesville, 40-35.
“We…regressed a little bit offensively,” said Mike Hobgood, head coach. “It just kind of got out of control.”
After the blunder on the opening kickoff, the first quarter continued in horrible fashion for the visiting Pride (5-6, 3-4 Cap-8 conference), as kicker Taylor Johnson missed a 30-yard field goal, running back Mike Dehaney was knocked out for the game with a shoulder injury and the host Wolverines (6-5, 4-3) scored the first 10 points of the game.
A 19-yard Vick pass to Elisiah Richardson, senior receiver, cut the advantage to 10-7, but Wakefield quarterback Matt McCay answered with a 30-yard touchdown pass to restore the double-digit lead. Leesville third-string running back Samir Duncan was then stripped well after forward progress had stopped, but the referees did not blow the play dead and a return for touchdown extended the lead to 24-7.
The Pride rebounded with consecutive touchdown passes to Trey Keeney, senior tight end, and Jordan Moore, junior receiver, to pull within five points (both extra points were missed). A 93-yard touchdown drive turned the momentum back in Wakefield’s favor, however, and a late field goal brought the halftime score to a prolific 34-19.
McCay added a rushing touchdown for the Wolverines mid-way through the third quarter, and Vick squandered several possessions (including two red zone trips) with three interceptions in the frame.
Leesville’s special teams unit sparked a late rally. A high punt snap led to an intentional safety with 11:48 left, then a blocked punt and touchdown return from Spencer Eason-Riddle, senior, cut the lead to 40-28 with 8:50 left.
Keeney pulled the visitors within a single score with 1:10 left on a 3-yard rushing touchdown, but the ensuing onside kick failed to travel the necessary 10 yards.
“First half, [we] came out a little bit shaky,” said Keeney. “We played every play like our last, [but we] just came up short.”
A heavily overworked Vick completed 33 of 52 pass attempts for 361 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Richardson hauled in 172 receiving yards, while Conner Eller, senior receiver, added 77 receiving yards and Keeney accumulated 95 all-purpose yards. Duncan rushed seven times for 30 yards; Dehaney earned 17 yards on five carries prior to his injury.
“We had to throw the ball more, because we didn’t feel, with the running backs out, that we could run the ball as good as we wanted to,” said Hobgood. “When you are a little more one-dimensional, it’s easier for the defense to hone in on that one thing.”
After entering a tough final stretch with a respectable 5-3, 3-1 record, the Pride dropped their last contests to Wake Forest (35-18), Millbrook (44-24) and Wakefield to finish the season fifth in the Cap-8. Wake Forest’s undefeated regular season led the Cougars to their fifth conference title in the past eight years.
Whether or not Leesville will qualify for the NCHSAA 4-AA state playoffs — and, if so, where their first-round matchup next Friday will be played — will be announced Saturday.
“I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be an easy year for anybody…the coaches or the players or the team in general,” said Hobgood with a hint of defeat in his voice.
“We certainly could’ve won another game here or there. We certainly could’ve lost a lot more too.”