From the time Aaron Brand took on the job as the Vance football coach earlier this year, he has preached the motto, “Why not us?” to his Cougar team.
Friday night, the players for Vance, No. 8 in the Observer Sweet 16, continued to show that they believe in themselves as they made the big plays necessary to beat No. 14 Rocky River 21-14 to advance to the 4A state semifinals next week. They travel to Charlotte Catholic (49-0 winner over Ronald Reagan).
“Coach Brand said from the beginning ‘Why not us?’ ” Vance junior defensive back Miles Corpening said. “We know that are a lot of people out there that have doubted us. But everybody on this team believes that, and that is all that matters to us.”
Coach Brand feels the same way.
“I am very confident in my team,” Brand said. “We never overlook our opponents, but we feel like we can match up with anyone in the state. We’re going to be up for the challenge every week and go out and give it everything we’ve got. We did it this week, and we will do that again next week.”
The Vance (11-3) defense was stingy for most of the night, giving up only 256 yards of total offense to Rocky River and forcing two turnovers.
With Vance clinging to a 21-14 lead with 1:34 to play, Rocky River had the ball on the Vance 28-yard line looking for the game-tying score. The Cougars’ defense made what turned out to be the game-clinching stop.
On 4th-and-1, the Ravens tried a flee-flicker pass as tailback Elijah Jett (19 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown) tossed the ball back to quarterback Naiil Ramadan, who lobbed a pass to Jaire Alexander, but it was knocked away by Corpening to end Rocky River’s chances.
“4th-and-1 with the game on the line, and I knew my team needed a play,” Corpening said. “I knew it was going to be one-on-one with me and (Jaire) Alexander, but I knew we had to make a stop for our coaches, our teammates and our families. I happened to be the guy who made the last play, but we don’t care who makes the play. As long as we have a chance to win at the end of the game, we believe someone on our team is going to make those plays.”
While it was a defensive struggle both ways for most of the game, the final 12:04 of the contest was action-packed.
First, Vance broke the 7-7 tie on the final play of the third quarter, when Cougars quarterback Omar Baker (9-for-16 for 131 yards and two touchdowns on the night) found Jonathan Ifedi on a 22-yard touchdown pass to give his team a 14-7 advantage.
After the teams traded punts, Rocky River (9-5) responded on a halfback pass when John Henderson took a lateral from Ramadan and found a wide open Alexander for a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 with 5:16 to play.
Vance responded quickly, using only three plays before junior tailback Donnovan Spencer (151 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries) burst untouched up the middle on a 38-yard touchdown run to give his team a 21-14 lead with 3:59 left in the game.
While it appeared Rocky River might send it into overtime as the team drove deep into Vance territory on its final possession, Corpening and Co. came up with the final stop.