On Sept. 30, unbeaten Vance High, ranked No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, went to Kannapolis to play A.L. Brown’s Wonders as a heavy favorite.
Vance led 7-0 early and then led 14-7 and then, well, the Cougars just tried to hang on. The team with the motto “All gas, no brakes,” started playing prevent defense and conservative offense. It all led to a 24-21 upset loss, a tumble from the top spot in the high school football poll and a whole lot of soul searching.
“We choked, gosh almighty,” Brand said after Friday’s 61-24 N.C. 4AA first-round playoff win over Ardrey Kell. “But we started holding each other a little more accountable and not resting on what we’d done. We stopped being conservative all the time. We got ahead of A.L. Brown by a touchdown and we just let off the gas. Our goal ever since is just to keep the gas pedal down. If you’re going to make a mistake, well, make it at 100 miles per hour.”
Playing fast obviously works.
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Friday, Vance won its sixth straight game and is averaging 54 points in the streak. Against Ardrey Kell, Jaylin Carr had a 96-yard kickoff return for a score, Isaiah Bembry had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and Teonne Porter had a 30-plus yard interception return. About the only thing that went wrong was when Oklahoma recruit Jeremiah Hall turned a routine short pass into a marathon 75-yard score, but a Cougars lineman was penalized for going down field too early, which brought the whole thing back.
But, Vance is playing fast, just the way Brand wants.
“We let them have a good time,” Brand said. “As long as you don’t do anything to show up the other team, then we want to have a good time. It’s football, man, and it’s almost over for these seniors. I’m letting them have a great time. They’re dancing on the field, they’re smiling. As long as they do stuff the right way, Monday through Thursday, we’re making Friday party night.”
▪ N.C. High School Athletic Association commissioner Que Tucker gave me an in-depth interview about this one-year trial playoff process where only the conference champion receives an automatic bid. Click here to read it.
I just think the association should try something else. Under this format, Mallard Creek had to play at Hough Friday. Mallard Creek beat Hough in the regular season and finished ahead of Hough in the MECKA conference.
Mallard Creek should not have to play at Hough.
Next week, Vance has to play at Myers Park. Vance won what is probably the state’s toughest conference, the MECKA. Myers Park finished No. 2 behind Butler in the Southwestern 4A. Vance should not be playing at Myers Park in the second round.
What to do?
Two thoughts (at least for the large 4A schools):
1. Get a committee to seed the teams, east and west, 1-16, working to avoid having, say, Butler play Mallard Creek in the second round like we’ll get next week and how we’ve gotten several times in the past. Those are probably the two best teams, along with Vance, in the west. And the winner could get Vance in the third round. At least one of the three should be on the opposite side of the draw. A committee could help assure that happens.
2. Tucker told me that the association would at least consider having an open draw for the larger schools, putting east and west teams together. She said coaches have never requested it. I think it’s time to at least discuss it.
It’s not like the travel, at least for 4A schools, is unprecedented. In the past, I’ve covered West Charlotte in playoff games in Durham. I’ve covered Charlotte teams in regular-season games in Rockingham, Laurinburg and Fayetteville. And teams regularly travel out of state or across the state for regular-season games.
What I’d like to see? A true open draw in 4AA (and 4A, too) and let a committee seed the teams. I’d include N.C. high school football bloggers Chris Hughes and Deana King on that committee, folks who know the game, who know the state.
How would that go over with coaches?
“I would love it,” Vance coach Brand said. “It would give the kids a chance to see something they’ve not seen. They would get to go across the state to see these other teams they read about. We’re always playing the same teams. So if it meant I had to go to (Greensboro) Page or Wake Forest, or somebody else that hasn’t seen us? Cool. Let’s go.”
▪ Playing its first game without coach Brian Hales, Butler didn’t miss a beat Friday, beating McDowell 63-0. Hales has been suspended with pay following a domestic violence incident. Without him, Butler outgained McDowell 381-6. McDowell ran 46 plays and had minus-26 yards rushing.
Statesville Christian 58, Village Christian 14: Statesville Christian made its first N.C. Independent Schools Division III playoff appearance this season. Now, the Lions are state champions. Village Christian took a 14-0 lead in Friday’s state final but allowed 58 straight points. Statesville Christian quarterback Brennan Settle threw for 205 yards and five scores. Running back Canaan Cox ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and had a 56-yard touchdown reception. BJ Lomax caught two touchdowns and Ray Ray Parks and Sharod Phelps each had an interception for the new state champions.
Gaffney (S.C.) 33, No. 3 Rock Hill Northwestern 30: Gaffney pulled off a stunning first-round upset in overtime. Dennis Smith hit Josh Blackwell for the game-winning touchdown from 7 yards out. Northwestern outgained Gaffney 435-365. Gaffney’s Tyshun Surratt completed 16-of-21 passes for 213 yards and Cameron Rice rushed 28 times for 99 yards and four scores. Northwestern’s Jerry Howard ran 22 times for 103 yards and a score. Quarterback Tanner McKinney was 20-of-29 for 235 yards and three scores. Northwestern starting Quarterback Gage Maloney was 5-of-6 for 67 yards but left the game early with an injury to his left arm.
East Forysth 43, Harding 20: The Rams were in the playoffs for the first time in six years, but couldn’t match East Forsyth on the road. East led 35-0 before Harding’s Jaquan Rankins scored on a 64-yard run.
West Forsyth 28, South Meck 25: The Sabres were stopped on downs in the fourth quarter with just over one minute left and lost on the road. West Forsyth will advance to play at unbeaten Lake Norman next week.
Friday’s Top Performers
Kingsley Ifedi, MJ Williams, Vance: In a 61-24 win over Ardrey Kell, Williams ran nine times for 139 yards and two scores. Ifedi, an East Carolina recruit, completed 10-of-19 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score.
Donshel Jetton, Mooresville: 28 carries for 183 yards in a 37-17 loss to West Meck.
Cole Ladowski, Lake Norman: Senior QB was 15-for-25 for 351 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-24 win over East Mecklenburg.
Richard Latimer, Dyami Brown, West Mecklenburg: Latimer was 13-for-28 for 275 yards and two scores in a 37-17 first-round win over Mooresville. He also rushed for more than 70 yards. Brown caught six passes for 138 yards and a score.
Larry Matkins, Mallard Creek: Son of former West Charlotte All-America quarterback Keith Matkins, Larry Matkins threw a crucial 51-yard pass in the fourth quarter of his team’s 21-16 win at Hough. He also had two sacks and two tackles for loss on defense.
Nijere Peoples, Butler: Six carries, 113 yards, four touchdowns in 63-0 win over McDowell.
Trevor Shue, Hickory Ridge: Three passing touchdowns, including a 78-yarder to Jay Garner, and a rushing touchdown in a 49-7 win over Asheville.
Darnell Walker, Mallard Creek: Ran 26 times for 167 yards and a score in Mallard Creek’s 21-16 first-round win at Hough.