KNIGHTDALE — On paper, Friday’s contest between East Wake and Knightdale has all the makings of one of the most exciting in the series between the two teams.
And it’s arguably set up to be the most significant clashes of the rivals during the tenure of coaches John Poulnott and Rob Senseney – with East Wake eying a playoff berth and Knightdale already a lock for a conference title and postseason play.
The eight-year series between the two football teams rests in a 4-4 tie. The Knights have won the last four contests by a combined 30 points.
Knightdale won 28-20 at home last season. Knights quarterback Marquavious Johnson rushed 13 times for 217 yards and three scores in that game. The Warriors entered the contest with an 0-4 record.
East Wake ended the 2012 season with a pair of wins to finish 3-8 overall, 3-4 in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference. Knightdale ended with back-to-back losses to Clayton – the second loss coming in the first round of the state playoffs – to cap a 7-4, 5-2 season.
Things are different this year.
Knightdale enters the eastern Wake County showdown and regular-season finale for both teams with an 8-1, 5-0 record and as the top-ranked team in the Triangle. It’s only loss was to Heritage, 23-22, on Sept. 6. The Knights have a clean slate against rivals not named East Wake – defeating Clayton, Garner and Southeast Raleigh this season.
East Wake has experienced ups and downs this season, but a potent offense has led to a new vibe for the 4-6, 3-2 Warriors. Their highest high came in a 54-40 win over Garner on Sept. 27. It was the first East Wake defeat of the Trojans in nine years.
“(The Warriors) have a dangerous passing game and dangerous running game,” said Senseney, the Knights’ coach. “They can put points on the board and can play tough.”
Through nine games, East Wake halfback Damontay Rhem had 1,054 rushing yards and 12 scores. His quarterback, Trent Evans, had thrown for more than 1,800 yards and added another 846 yards on the ground.
The Knights are led by Johnson (526 yards passing, 833 yards and 12 scores rushing) and fullback Nate Harvey (977 rushing yards, 10 TDs).
Knightdale averaged 335.5 total yards through its first nine games this season, 19 yards less than the Warriors allowed on average in their first nine games. But the Knights allowed their opponents 261.8 yards on average through nine games, about 171 fewer yards than the East Wake offense produced on average in that amount of time.
“I know everyone wants to look at those numbers, but it’s hard to measure those things week-to-week,” said Poulnott. “(The Knights) had success running against teams we haven’t, and we passed against teams they haven’t.
“For us, it just depends on any given night what aspect a defense is going to try and take away.”
Keys to a win
Senseney said he’s not sure how the numbers will translate onto the field Friday, but he knows his Knightdale teams have never defeated East Wake by more than 14 points.
The last two contests have been decided by 8 points or less.
“It’s always a hard-fought game,” Senseney said. “Every year I’ve been here, it’s one of those physical games.”
The Knights will have to limit big plays by East Wake, win third downs on both sides of the ball and win the turnover battle, according to Senseney.
Poulnott is most concerned with Knightdale’s speed.
“(The Knights) have the ability to attack the edge of the defense – defenses that have played better than us throughout the year,” Poulnott said.
As for his own team, Poulnott said keeping drives alive, protecting the football and presenting a balanced attack on offense are musts.
“We can’t allow Knightdale to have extra possessions and we have to expose them when we have the opportunity,” Poulnott said. “The difference in us and them is we haven’t finished drives.
“The games we’ve really shown up and played good football were the games where we kept possession of the ball.”
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews