University City

Cougars struggle in early games

What has gone wrong with the talented Vance High School football team?

After a program-changing 11-4 season last year, the Cougars were thought to be the team to challenge Mallard Creek for the I-Meck 4A conference championship. They are certainly talented enough. They beat the Mavericks last year, and they were poised to back it up with a huge season this year.

Last year, the Cougars started slowly as well, going 1-2 out of the gates. They can rebound again.

The 44-6 loss to Philip O. Berry to open this season was thought to be an anomaly, correlated with head coach Phil Culicerto's forced resignation. Then the Cougars got Culicerto back as an assistant and looked good for head coach Billy Leeson in a 32-12 win over Garinger.

But neither of the next two games, a 58-27 loss to Independence and a 45-28 loss to Butler, was as close as the final score indicated.

The Cougars have tons of talent but have yet to put it all together.

Junior running back Larenz Bryant is one of the area's best all-purpose feature backs. Against Independence, Bryant had a five-yard touchdown run and, after catching a 41-yard touchdown pass from fellow junior Jalen Latter, had given the Cougars a 13-7 lead.

But it was downhill from there. The Patriots scored the next 23 points before Bryant ran 55 yards for another touchdown. It was too little too late.

The Butler game further magnified the Cougars early-season struggles. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 28-0 lead and at one point had out-gained Vance 188 yards to just eight. The lead eventually ballooned to 31-0 before the Cougars could score. Again, the hole was too deep.

Now Vance is 1-3 on the year and in a five-team tie for last place in the conference. Vance was to play Hough, a fellow 1-3 team, on Friday, and the next two weeks will go a long way in determining the season.

This week, the Cougars travel to Mooresville, which was 3-1 and in second place in the conference before Friday's games.

The following week, the Cougars get their toughest game: a rematch with a determined Mallard Creek team. Mavericks team members have spent the off-season with pictures hanging in their locker room of Vance players celebrating on the Mallard Creek home field.

It could get ugly for the Cougars. Their schedule - at least for the first seven games - is one of the area's toughest. But they are a good enough team to rebound, and they still have time.

Time will tell, but the chips are stacked against this team.