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The Pinecrest defense swarms in for a stop on defense in the fourth quarter against Apex Friendship last week in the 4AA state playoffs.

To quote Ric Flair, Pinecrest football coach Chris Metzger knows what Friday’s matchup against Wake Forest means for his program.

“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” Metzger said. “They are the benchmark, one of the benchmarks in this state. It would be huge for our program to get that first success over them.”

Wake Forest is looking to make its sixth appearance in the last eight seasons in the state championship game. For the fourth time during that stretch, Pinecrest finds itself in a collision course with the Cougars as the teams will meet in the second round of the 4AA N.C. High School Athletic Association football playoffs. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. from historic Trentini Stadium, where Wake Forest University played its games from 1940 to 1957.

In the previous three meetings against Wake Forest, Pinecrest has come up on the losing end of playoff contests. Those matchups included back-to-back years the Cougars ended the Patriots’ season in 2013 and 2014.

The teams last met in 2018 in the 4AA East regional final, with Wake Forest victorious by a 49-7 score.

No. 8-seeded Pinecrest (6-2) makes its second straight trip to the greater Raleigh area in as many weeks after defeating top-seeded Apex Friendship, 24-17, last week. No. 5-seeded Wake Forest (6-1) came from behind in the opening week of the state playoffs with a 30-27 victory over Heritage.

The faces change throughout the years with Wake Forest, but Pinecrest’s coach knows that the system and the way the team is coached makes this year’s edition as tough as ever this season.

“They’re solid. They are exactly what they have always been. They do what they do,” Metzger said. “They kind of sit back like a pitbull or a boa constrictor, just waiting for you to make a mistake. That’s what they live on.”

Pinecrest had its share of mistakes last week with 15 penalties for 174 yards and a turnover against Apex Friendship.

With that, an offensive line with some younger players seeing significant snaps led the way for 278 yards rushing in the game. This week, that group lines up across the line of scrimmage from a Wake Forest defense that has several standout players with major college football offers.

“On defense, they’ve got Chris Allen, a defensive end who's got a bunch of D1 offers,” Metzger said. “They’ve got an outside linebacker, Isaiah Pipkin at 6-6, 205 (pounds) with a bunch of D1 offers. But our focus has been on us. We have to continue to do what we do.”

The Cougars’ defense has held opponents to 16 points per game on average, and has forced 14 turnovers this season, with 11 coming via interceptions.

The Wake Forest offense makes the most of the defense’s turnovers, led by Michael Dipasquale with 11 combined touchdowns either by rushing or passing. The sophomore running back has rushed for 559 yards. Senior quarterback Chad Hillman has passed for 666 yards and four touchdowns.

“On offense they’re running the pistol Wing-T, throwing it a little bit more,” Metzger said. “They are super disciplined in all phases so it’s going to be real important for us to play super disciplined on defense. They use a lot of misdirection, a lot of reverses and they’ve got a quarterback that passes the ball quite a bit as well.”

Pinecrest is being given 1,000 tickets to the game on Friday, a larger sum than the 90 that were allowed last week at Apex Friendship. The Patriots will be playing with heavy hearts, Metzger said, as cheerleading coach Crystal Handchen passed away this week. According to the school’s social media pages, fans can wear white, as the team will do also in their white road uniforms, to honor Handchen.

Pinecrest is looking to make it to the regional final contest for the second time in three seasons.

“Our kids are not satisfied with being in the elite eight,” Metzger said. “We want to keep it rolling.”

The winner goes to play at the winner of the Hoggard-Rolesville matchup next week.

Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or jonathan@thepilot.com.

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