It’s been a tough year for Vance High football coach Aaron Brand.
In 2016, Vance had the best season in school history, going 13-2 and reaching the N.C. 4AA state semifinal game. But the next time Brand walked onto the field with his team, on Aug. 19, much had changed. Only one offensive starter returned, Charlotte 49ers recruit Gary Williams, a tight end. There were three starters back on defense.
Vance played West Mecklenburg in a high-profile season opener at Memorial Stadium in a battle between teams ranked in the Observer’s Sweet 16 preseason poll. West Mecklenburg beat Vance 42-19. It was that lopsided.
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“It’s hard with all these new faces,” Brand said. “The QB is new. All the receivers are new. The running back is new. ...I enjoy being around this team, but there are situations in these games where we should be better, where we think we should do better, and we just stall.”
Vance bounced back from the West Meck debacle with a 55-0 win over a good Monroe team at home last week. But just when Brand thought his Cougars -- who he feels have plenty of talent -- was back on track, he looked up and Vance trailed 27-7 at Rocky River Friday in the rain.
Late in the third quarter.
“The first game, against West Meck, I think everybody thought we were something we weren’t,” Brand said. “What do we do? Call and say we’re not as good as you have us ranked? We’re re-starting. You hate to say rebuilding because we have good players, but in essence, that’s what it is.
“So what is another word besides rebuilding? I guess we’re kind of starting over, because when adversity hits and you’ve got all these new faces, they’re like deer in the headlights.”
Friday, however, Brand’s young team responded to adversity. Junior quarterback Nigel Summerville, a Myers Park transfer who had never played a down of varsity football before this season, began finding receiver Jaylen Riley, a senior Independence transfer. Riley finished with nearly a dozen catches. And running back Kalen Clark, who was stifled by Rocky River’s powerful defensive line for much of the game, began finding some lanes.
Finally, Clark scored with 50 seconds left to bring Vance to within 27-25. The Cougars successfully converted a two-point play after the touchdown to tie the game and blocked Rocky River’s field goal attempt in overtime. Vance, per high school rules, would get the ball at the Rocky River 10-yard line, needing any type of score to win. The Cougars kicked the winning field goal on third down.
Brand said it was an important win in terms of developing his team. Given his history, it’s probably a safe bet he’ll get the Cougars heading in the right direction. Consider Vance opened in 1997. Before Brand got there in 2014, Vance had exactly one season, in 2010, where it had double-digit wins.
In two of his first three seasons, Brand has led the Cougars to double-digits wins. Last year, Vance was one win away from a berth in the state championship game. That might not be a goal yet for the 2017 Cougars, but wins like Friday’s, Brand said, can go a long way.
“Down 27 to 7 with all the new faces and four regulars back?” Brand asked, the tone of his voice rising an octave or two. “Somebody we don’t know has got to make plays. Well, Riley and Summerville made plays. They got it down there and Clark stuck it in for us. That’s big when you’re trying to grow, man. That’s real big.”
↑Marcus Robitaille, Marvin Ridge: Took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown against Ardrey Kell.
↑Rock Hill Northwestern defense: The Trojans stifled South Mecklenburg early. On its first four possession, South Meck did the following: punt; turnover on downs; blocked punt; punt. Northwestern went on to win 45-0. South Meck rushed 25 times for 54 yards.
↑Charlotte Catholic: Cougars won their fifth straight John Cook Cup, beating rival Charlotte Country Day 45-6. Catholic has won the past four meetings by a combined score of 149-16.
↑Charlotte Christian cheerleaders: The Knights cheerleaders use an oft-repeated practice of doing pushups after scores. Friday, they did 315 combined in a 63-14 win over Hendersonville. Hurt so good?
↓SouthLake Christian-North Raleigh Christian: The game was rained out Friday. A reschedule date has not been announced.
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Friday’s Top Performers
Quavaris Crouch, Harding: The nation’s top running back recruit in the class of 2019 rushed for 175 of his team’s 190 rush yards in a 21-0 win over West Charlotte. He scored all three touchdowns. Harding is 3-0 for the first time since 2013.
Michael Neel, Milan Howard, Charlotte Catholic: Duo sparked a 45-6 rout of Charlotte Country Day Friday -- Neel with 148 yards total offense and three touchdowns on just six touches; Howard with 12 rushes for 143 yards and two scores. Country Day sophomore Twan Flip had five catches for 89 yards, including a 55-yard scoring pass from John Hosmer for his team’s first points of the season.
Dustin Noller, Rock Hill Northwestern: Sophomore completed 24-of-32 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-0 win at South Mecklenburg. He ran two times for 14 yards and another score.
Justus Woods, Charlotte Christian: 10 carries for 164 yards and three scores for Stanford commit in a 63-14 win at Hendersonville. He averaged 16.4 yards per attempt. Woods also caught two passes for 47 yards and score, averaging 23.5 yards per reception.
Bryce Satterfield, Watauga: He ran 14 times for 152 yards and five touchdowns in the Pioneers’ 49-8 win against rival Avery County.
Marvin Ridge 35, Ardrey Kell 0: Marvin Ridge went ahead 21-0 after a pass from Bryce McClain to Devin Powell in the win.
The 3A Mavericks (3-0) have beaten two 4A Mecklenburg County teams (Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg) and whipped 3A power A.L. Brown. On Friday, Marvin Ridge got its first shutout since beating Airborne For Christ 69-0 in September 2012. The Mavericks are 3-0 for the first time since 2011.
Carolina Pride 29, Carolina Wildcats 14: Mecklenburg County’s home school team got a 62-yard fumble return for a score from Von Brow and a safety to gain a 9-0 lead and never slowed down. The Pride led 22-0 before Carolina Wildcats finally scored. Von Brow added a 5-yard touchdown run.
Rock Hill Northwestern 45, South Mecklenburg 0: After leading 3-0 after the first quarter, Northwestern scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to break the game open at South. Northwestern sophomore quarterback Dustin Noller accounted for all three scores, throwing TD passes of 35 and 15 yards and running in from 12 yards. South Meck quarterback Austin Grier was 21-for-31 for 160 yards, hitting receiver Jordan McKinney eight times for 71 yards.
Saturday, Monday schedule
Saturday, Sept. 2
Carolina Crusaders at Cabarrus Stallions
Charlotte Latin at Woodberry Forest (Va.), 2
Hunter Huss at Clover, 7
Monday, Sept. 4
Concord First Assembly at Hickory Grove, 6
Central Cabarrus at Mount Pleasant, 6:30
Community School of Davidson at Lake Norman Charter, 7
Central Academy at Union Academy, 7
East Rowan at South Rowan, 7
Eastern Randolph at Albemarle, 6
Lake Norman at South Iredell, 7
Maiden at Bunker Hill, 6
Mountain Island Charter at Graham, 3
Newton Conover at Hickory, 6
North Rowan at Lexington, 7
Parkwood at Cox Mill, 6:30
Providence at Myers Park, 7
Richmond Senior at Pine Forest, 5
West Stanly at North Stanly, 6:30
Saturday, Sept. 2
Carolina Crusaders at Cabarrus Stallions
South Pointe (SC) at Rock Hill, 11 a.m.