High School Sports

Friday’s Observations: Despite past failures, Vance coach Aaron Brand gambles, goes for 2, beats Butler

Vance Cougars quarterback Kingsley Ifedi scores the winning touchdown during overtime against the Butler Bulldogs at Butler High School on Friday. Vance defeated Butler 50-49.
Vance Cougars quarterback Kingsley Ifedi scores the winning touchdown during overtime against the Butler Bulldogs at Butler High School on Friday. Vance defeated Butler 50-49. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

For a coach who has the absolute worst luck when it comes to two-point conversion attempts in game-winning situations, Vance High’s Aaron Brand never doubted his strategy when his team got into an overtime period with Butler in the N.C. 4AA Western Regional quarterfinal Friday night.

When Butler scored first to lead 49-42 Friday night at home, Vance would have the ball. The Cougars could force a second overtime with a touchdown and a traditional extra point. But that was never in Brand’s plans.

Brand has a motto for his team: “All gas, no brakes.” And even when everything is on the line - a berth in a regional final, possibly the first state finals trip for the school and for him as a head coach, Brand wasn’t about to deviate from his coaching style.

All gas. ...

“I don’t have a backup plan, brother,” Brand said. “I wasn’t ready to stop coaching these guys and they weren’t ready to stop being yelled at. Man, I just don’t have any other mindset, nothing but an aggressive mindset. I didn’t know any other way to do it. I wasn’t going to do it any other way.”

That mindset has bitten Brand in past seasons.

He lost a regular-season game in 2015 against conference rival Hough on a failed two-pointer that cost him playoff position and might have helped lead to a first-round playoff date at eventual 4A state champion Charlotte Catholic. Vance lost that game after missing a traditional extra-point attempt.

In 2014, Brand’s team lost to Charlotte Catholic in the N.C. 4A semifinal when Catholic’s Matt White intercepted Omar Baker’s two-point pass attempt in overtime and sent Brand home mystified.

None of that mattered Friday.

“I told our guys before overtime that if they score, we’re going for two,” Brand said. “I even knew the play we’d run.”

Brand was going to go with “19 Base,” which calls for his quarterback, Kingsley Ifedi, an East Carolina recruit, to run left behind fullback Kalen Clark. And just as he was about to lead Vance’s offense onto the field for the Cougars’ overtime possession, Ifedi said something to Brand that cemented the coaches’ decision of who to give the ball to when it counted most

“I wouldn’t rather be any other place than right here at this moment, me and you together,” Ifedi told Brand. “We’ve been through this before. Keep (the ball) in my hands.”

So Brand ran Oklahoma recruit Jeremiah Hall on first-and-goal at the 10. He ran Hall again on second down. Vance ended up with third down at the 5. Ifedi ran it in for a score. Brand called timeout. But he wasn’t going to change his mind.

He told Ifedi to run “19 Base.”

And Ifedi took the snap, ran left, and got a crushing block from Clark. He scored easily.

▪ Brand now will lead Vance to Greensboro Page for the regional final. The teams scrimmaged in preseason, Brand said. Page lost 49-6 to Mallard Creek in the 4AA state championship game in 2015, when it was sent to the eastern half of the playoff draw.

Friday’s top performers

Isaiah Eli-Bembry, Vance: Intercepted a pass in the end zone with 15 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

Davis Cheek, Kusegi Cureton, Butler: Completed 23-of-27 passes for 435 yards and five scores in a 50-49 overtime loss to Vance. He also ran for a score. Cheek hooked up with Kusegi Cureton eight times for 181 yards and two scores.

Emeka Emezie, Austin Colonna, Marvin Ridge: Emeka Emezie caught 10 passes for 144 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-49 four overtime loss to Hickory Ridge. Colonna completed 21-of-35 passes for 266 yards and six touchdowns.

Joey Hobbs, Weddington: Intercepted pass that set up Weddington’s final score in a 21-13 win at Asheville Reynolds. He also broke up a pass in the final minute to end a potential game-tying drive at the Weddington 30.

Kingsley Ifedi, Vance: Game-winning two-point conversion run at Butler. Ran 24 times for 160 yards and four touchdowns. Was 11-of-19 passing for 165 yards

Cordel Littlejohn, Sage Surratt, Langdon Givens, Lincolnton: In a 72-44 win over Hendersonville, Littlejohn set a Lincoln County record for touchdown passes and Surratt, a Harvard recruit, set a state record for career touchdown receptions. Littlejohn threw for 427 yards and eight touchdowns, one off the state record. Surratt caught 11 passes for 254 yards and four scores, giving him 79 career touchdown catches, snapping the record of 76 set by Independence's Mohammad Massaquoi in 2004. Surratt’s receiving yards in 19th most receiving yards in game by a player in NCHSAA history. Lincolnton’s Givens had 159 yards receiving and four scores.

Trevor Shue, Hickory Ridge: 13-of-22 for 273 yards and four touchdowns against Marvin Ridge. Ran 25 times for 162 yards and three touchdowns.

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

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