Vance High football coach Keith Wilkes started working with the Cougars in January. He pushed them hard in the weight room. He put in some strict rules. He wanted them to believe they could compete for championships, despite a 5-7 record last season.
“I believe when you give kids a little bit of hope, you get more out of them,” he said.
Thursday, Wilkes’ team delivered much more than hope. The Cougars delivered one of the biggest wins in Vance’s school history, beating Independence 35-0. The Patriots hadn’t been shut out since 1999.
It was only the second time Vance had beaten Independence. Vance won 21-20 in 2010, but is 2-10 lifetime against the Patriots, with many of the losses coming via blowout.
And last week’s win sets up this week’s game of the year in Mecklenburg County, with Sweet 16 No. 1 Butler coming to visit Vance Saturday at 7 p.m.
Butler is 15-1 all-time against Vance. The Cougars won 21-20 in 2006, but Butler’s margin of victory in the other 15 games is 21.3 points.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Wilkes said. “We cannot turn the ball over or commit penalties. We’ve got to play strong defense and bring a lot of pressure to the quarterback (Riley Ferguson). If he’s comfortable in the pocket, he can pick you apart.”
Vance’s signature has come to be a defense that allows only seven points per game. Wilkes’ Wing-T style offense seeks to dominate time of possession and keep explosive offenses like Butler’s off the field. Wilkes also feels his team has confidence now.
“We had a chance to be pretty good,” Wilkes said. “Our kids have the ability. The biggest thing for me was I didn’t know a lot about the teams we were facing, to have something to compare (us) to. But now that I see who we have to go against, I think we’re just as good as anybody now.”
• West Rowan beat Salisbury 29-10 Friday to win its 42nd straight game against a Rowan County opponent and 12th straight win over Salisbury. Desmond Jackson rushed 25 times for 162 yards.
• I’m often asked why so many top high school football recruits in North Carolina always seem to pick schools outside the state and particularly those in the SEC. I watched Georgia and North Carolina play inferior opponents on TV Saturday afternoon. Georgia’s crowd was decent and loud. North Carolina’s stadium didn’t look half full.
• One top-flight recruit who is staying in-state is Northern Guilford’s T.J. Logan. Logan, a North Carolina recruit, ran for 316 yards and a career-high tying five touchdowns in a 36-7 win over Greensboro Dudley Friday. Logan also scored five times in the N.C. 3AA championship game last December against Crest.
• In Friday’s 32-14 win over East Rowan, North Rowan recovered five fumbles. Kasaun Coney had a 95-yard touchdown on a kickoff, his second straight week with a special-teams score. Michael Robinson blocked a punt.
• Unbeaten Statesville (3-0) is looking like a state championship contender in the 3A class, but it’s got to fix problems with penalties. In Friday’s 34-24 win over 4A Lake Norman, the Greyhounds had 21 penalties for 166 yards. In two weeks, they have 37 penalties for 309 yards.
• South Point beat East Gaston 78-11 Friday and scored the third-most points in Gaston County history. Gastonia beat Bessemer City 88-0 in 1937. Highland beat Shelby 82-0 in 1945. South Point’s 655 yards offense was a school-record, too. It was South Point’s 500th game in school history.
• The first Patriotism Bowl at Charlotte Catholic Friday was a huge success and raised $30,000 for area charities that support U.S. veterans and their families. I hope it continues. Organizers want to feature different matchups each year. My vote for future seasons: West Charlotte-Harding (2013), A.L. Brown-Concord (2014) and Porter Ridge-Marvin Ridge (2015).