Vance High football coach Aaron Brand said his young 2016 Cougars team has been a big surprise.
They are 3-0 after Saturday’s dominant 48-7 win over George Washington (Va) at West Mecklenburg High. Normally a pass-happy team, Brand was surprised to see his offensive line dominate the game early so he switched to a formation with two tight ends and readjusted his game plan.
Instead of letting East Carolina-bound senior quarterback Kingsley Ifedi throw the ball all over the place, Brand decided to run. And run and run. Vance rushed for nearly than 300 yards. Ifedi threw a touchdown and ran for two. Teamates Kalen Clark and M.J. Williams also had two touchdowns. George Washington (1-1) -- ranked No. 25 among Virginia 4A teams by MaxPreps -- never adjusted.
“Our offensive line just moved their front,” said Brand, whose team is ranked No. 7 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll. “We dominated their front seven. We thought we would have some pass situations open, and we’re a pass-first team, but our running backs were doing downhill today. We played two tight ends most of the day and they didn’t have an answer for it.”
Brand played quarterback at Halifax (Va.) High and led his team to a state title in 1991. Along the way, Halifax was ranked No. 1 in the state and had to beat No. 2 George Washington twice – in the regular-season finale and the first round of the playoffs. Nearly 25 years later, Brand desperately wanted to take his team back home so his friends and family could see his Cougars play. So he took Vance to Virginia last season and led the Cougars to a 28-7 win over George Washington on the road. The teams had a return game in Charlotte Saturday.
Despite returning just three starters on offense and two on defense, Brand couldn’t have imagined his team playing better. For the season, Vance has only had three possessions when it didn’t score. The Cougars have not punted. They are averaging 51 points per game.
“We don’t have the talent we had last year,” Brand said, “not by any means, but we have a lot more fun group to coach. Nobody really knows anything and they believe whatever we say, which is kind of gold. And that’s fun to be around.”
▪ Butler High opened in 1997 and it took the Bulldogs about five years to get rolling. Once they did -- in the middle of Independence’s 109-game win streak and seven straight state championships -- Indy-Butler became the biggest rivalry in the state. Big stars, big stage, big stakes. The teams met in the state semifinals, as deep as they could meet in the playoffs. The teams met for conference championships. If there were an open classification championship, I’d wager that at least three times they would’ve played for a state title.
But Independence isn’t what it once was and Mallard Creek has usurped Butler as North Carolina’s premier team, a title Butler finally rested from Independence around 2009.
And the biggest rivalry, at least in Mecklenburg County, isn’t Indy-Butler anymore. It’ll be Vance-Mallard Creek. It’s a bitter rivalry that hasn’t gotten the acclaim that others have gotten. Vance ruined Mallard Creek’s first best chance at a state title in 2010, stopping an unbeaten Mavericks team 10-7 at Mallard Creek in the state quarterfinals. And Vance and Mallard Creek have had some big battles since then. The schools are a few miles apart and the players know each other. The fear factor Mallard Creek puts into a lot of teams doesn’t exist with Vance.
Mallard Creek won 22-21 last year and 29-22 the year before that. The teams meet this year on Oct. 14. Mark it on your calendars.
▪ One more Mallard Creek thought: when Independence was making its run, the Patriots had a much flashier offense, but didn’t play the type of schedule the Mavericks do. If this Mallard Creek team can go unbeaten, playing Vance and Duncan Byrnes (SC) and Rock Hill South Pointe and Butler and Dillon (SC) -- state powers all -- you have to think about comparing them with the best of Independence. To me, Independence 2001 and 2004 are the best teams ever from Mecklenburg. I lean towards 2001 because it had the best Mecklenburg player ever (QB Chris Leak) and best Mecklenburg coach ever (Tom Knotts). But these Mavericks, if they go through this season without a loss, would deserve to be in that conversation with those two Patriots teams.
▪ I love the John Cook Cup rivalry between Charlotte Country Day and Charlotte Catholic. But I think it needs a name change. It was created to honor the legendary Country Day coach who led the Bucs from 1958-87. But with Jim Oddo retiring from Catholic after 41 years, 358 wins and three state titles a couple years ago, his name should join Cook’s on the Cup. He meant as much at Catholic as Cook did to Country Day. Let’s call it the Cook-Oddo Cup.
▪ Charlotte’s private schools again flexed their muscle Saturday. Charlotte Latin, last season’s private school Division I runner-up, beat Monroe, last season’s N.C. 2AA public school state champion 27-20 on Monroe’s home field. Charlotte Christian beat 3A Cuthbertson 49-19.
Christian, No. 10 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, is 3-0 with wins over reigning N.C. 4A state champ Charlotte Catholic and 3A Cuthbertson. That’s impressive.
Charlotte Christian 49, Cuthbertson 19: Charlotte Christian (3-0), ranked No. 10 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, intercepted three passes and forced three fumbles in an easy win. Cuthbertson (1-2) scored 10 straight points to take a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter. Christian responded with 28 straight points to put the game away. Knights QB Garrett Shrader threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another.
Charlotte Latin 27, Monroe 20: Latin QB Bates Jones threw a 90-yard scoring pass to Christoper Elliott with 2:35 left to help Latin (3-0), No. 12 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, to a win over the reigning N.C. 2AA state champs. No. 13 Monroe (1-2) outgained the Hawks 431-241, rushing for 335 yards. Jones completed 3-of-9 passes for 101 yards. DeMarkes Stradford rushed 15 times for 85 yards and a score for Latin. Monroe’s Zephaniah Wall had nearly 300 yards total offense.
Porter Ridge 17, Hunter Huss 14: Porter Ridge won three games combined in the past two seasons. Under first-year coach Mike Hertz the Pirates improved to 2-0 this year. It’s Porter Ridge’s best start since 2012. Porter Ridge had five interceptions Saturday, including two in the final six minutes. Hunter Huss fell to 0-3 this season and lost its fifth straight game, dating to last season.
Pinecrest 35, Weddington 31: Weddington, No. 16 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll, jumped out to a 21-7 lead on Pinecrest, in a game that was moved from Friday due to Tropical Storm Hermine. Pinecrest is ranked No. 5 in the Raleigh News & Observer Top 25 poll.
Pinecrest -- which got 351 yards and four touchdowns from QB Nik Pry -- rallied to grab a 28-24 lead before Weddington scored on a short run with two minutes, 16 seconds to play to regain a 31-28 lead.
But Pinecrest drove quickly and scored with 39 seconds left, and then stopped Weddington at its 9 yard line on two plays as time expired to preserve a wild win. Weddington (1-2) lost in the final moments for the second time in three weeks. Sweet 16 No. 15 Ardrey Kell beat the Warriors 30-27 a couple weeks ago on a field goal with 18 seconds left.
“We had two plays at the 9 and couldn’t get it,” Weddington coach Tim Carso said. “It’s a tough loss, but it shows we gotta keep getting better. We’ve lost two ballgames at the end, and we lost to two pretty good football teams. We just to learn how to win these types of football games at the end.”
Rock Hill South Pointe 30, Rock Hill 23: South Pointe beat Rock Hill for the seventh straight time and won the Rock Hill city championship after beating Northwestern last month. South Pointe had two early turnovers, but Rock Hill had five, which helped the Stallions overcome their mistakes. Rock Hill led 23-16 in the fourth quarter before South Pointe’s J.P. Pendergrass caught an 80-yard pass from Derion Kenrick. South Pointe safety Ken’darius Frederick then returned an interception into Rock Hill territory and Voshon St. Hill eventually scored the game-winner.
Cameron Dollar, East Lincoln: One week after setting a national receiving record and becoming a social media sensation, Dollar caught five passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over North Lincoln. Last week, Dollar caught nine passes for 299 yards and a state record seven touchdowns. All of his yards and scores were in the first half. Seven touchdowns in a half is a new national record. Dollar did an interview with ESPN Thursday night to talk about his big game.
Kingsley Ifedi, Vance: senior quarterback threw for 281 yards in a 48-7 win over George Washington and ran 10 times for 117. Teammates M.J. Williams (10 carries, 65 yards, two TDs) and Kalen Clark (8 carries, 74 yards, two TDs) also had big games.
Kendric Ivey, Cuthbertson: 27 carries, 166 yards and a score in a 49-19 loss to Charlotte Christian Saturday.
Derion Kendrick, Rock Hill South Pointe: completed 27-of-40 passes for 373 yards and a touchdown in a come-from-behind 30-23 win over Rock Hill.
Larry Matkins, Mallard Creek: Senior linebacker heading to Colorado State had game-winning points in a 21-14 win over Byrnes, a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Mason Mills, Porter Ridge: 22 carries, 138 yards and a 66-yard scoring run in a 17-14 win over Hunter Huss.
J.P. Pendergrass, Rock Hill South Pointe: caught five passes for 141 yards and a score in Rock Hill win.
Garrett Shrader, Charlotte Christian: 25-for-40 passing for 305 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-19 win over Cuthbertson Saturday. He ran eight times for 48 yards and another score.
Darnell Walker, Mallard Creek: 23 carries for 141 yards in a 21-14 win over S.C. power Duncan Byrnes.
Zephaniah Wall, Monroe: rushed 23 times for 193 yards in a loss to Charlotte Latin. He completed 11-of-22 passes for 96 yards.
How the Sweet 16 fared
Observer rankings of the top 16 high school football programs in our circulation area
1. Mallard Creek (3-0)
d. Byrnes (S.C.) 21-14
2. Hough (2-1)
L, 35-34 to Lake Norman
at Ardrey Kell
3. Butler (2-1)
d. W. Alamance 34-7
vs. Richmond Sr.
4. Rock Hill South Pointe (3-0)
d. Rock Hill 30-23
at St. Frances Acad. (Md.)
5. Rock Hill Northwestern (2-1)
d. South Meck 38-25
6. South Meck (2-1)
L, 38-25 to Rock Hill Northwestern
at Myers Park
7. Vance (3-0)
d. Danville (Va.) GW 48-7
vs. St. John’s Charter (SC)
8. Charlotte Catholic (2-1)
d. Country Day 27-0
at Rocky River
9. Davidson Day (1-1)
d. Hickory Hawks 55-6
at Country Day
10. Charlotte Christian (3-0)
d. Cuthertson 49-19
at West Ashley (SC)
11. Concord (1-1)
d E. Rowan 39-20
vs. Hickory Ridge
12. Charlotte Latin (3-0)
d. Monroe 27-20
13. Monroe (1-2)
L, 27-20 to Latin
14. Myers Park (2-0)
vs Providence, Mon.
vs South Meck
15. Ardrey Kell (1-1)
d Marvin Ridge 36-34
16. Weddington (1-2)
L, 35-31 to Pinecrest Sat.
Charlotte Christian 49, Cuthbertson 19
Charlotte Latin 27, Monroe 20
Mallard Creek 21, Duncan Byrnes (SC) 14
Porter Ridge 17, Hunter Huss 14
Rock Hill South Pointe 30, Rock Hill 23
Southern Pines Pinecrest 35, Weddington 31
Vance 48, George Washington (VA) 7
Albemarle at West Stanly, 7
Asheville Carolina Gladiators at Northside Christian, 5:30
Central Academy at Union Academy, 7
East Mecklenburg at North Mecklenburg, 7
Hickory Ridge at Jay M. Robinson, 6:30
Lincolnton 61, North Gaston 34
Metrolina Christian at SouthLake Christian, 7
Mooresville at Hopewell, 7
Mount Pleasant at Cox Mill, 6:30
Northwest Cabarrus at A.L. Brown, 6:30
Parkwood at Piedmont, 6:30
Providence at Myers Park, 7
West Charlotte at Harding, 7
Alexander Central 54, South Caldwell 7
Burns 20, Central Cabarrus 7
Cannon 28, Rabun Gap 7
Carson 31, Salisbury 7
Chase 7, Bessemer City 0
Concord First Assembly 57, Christ The King 6
East Forsyth 23, West Forsyth 10
East Lincoln 48, North Lincoln 0
Forestview 28, Kings Mountain 0
Hibriten 38, West Caldwell 7
Lake Norman Charter 35, Community School of Davidson 16
Newton-Conover 57, Hickory 13
North Davidson 35, Asheboro 14
Olympic 14, Independence 12
Patton 24, Draughn 7
Providence Day 44, Carolina Pride 0
R-S Central 28, Polk County 7
Skyland Roberson 23, East Rutherford 7
South Stanly at Anson, late
Statesville Christian 19, Pine Lake Prep 14
Stuart Cramer 35, West Iredell 7
Surry Central 28, Wilkes Central 27
West Lincoln 21, Cherryville 0
West Stokes 26, North Iredell 9
West Mecklenburg 42, Garinger 8
Union 23, York 13