The two Mecklenburg County high school football coaches whose teams are still alive in the playoffs are in familiar territory.
Charlotte Catholic’s Mike Brodowicz has been the Cougars’ coach for three seasons, leading them to the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship each year. Friday, Catholic (13-1) will host Greensboro Dudley (13-1) with hopes of making its third straight state championship game.
Vance’s Aaron Brand is in the N.C. 4AA Western Regional final for the second time in three years as a head coach. But he’s been to this state semifinal round multiple times -- and won state titles -- as an assistant coach at Mallard Creek and Independence. Brand will lead Vance (13-1) in its game at Greensboro Page (13-1) Friday night.
Brodowicz said Catholic’s playoff success has been the product of hard work.
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“I keep talking to my coaches,” Brodowicz said, “and I’m like, ‘When is this going to end?’ I think we’re good coaches, but there are lots of good coaches. A lot of good coaches don’t get the breaks, but we’ve put in a lot of time to get to this point, but it still amazes me we can do this.”
Catholic is in the regional final for the seventh consecutive season and for the 12th time in the past 14 seasons with an overachieving group “that plays hard together” and has no Division I college prospects, Brodowicz said.
The Cougars have 28 seniors who have been on Catholic teams that are 48-6 overall, with two state championshp appearances and the 2015 state title. That winning experience has helped overcome the loss of seven senior starters to injury. That list includes three linemen, two running backs, a linebacker and a kicker.
“Our ninth- and 10th-grade classes have a lot of talent coming up from Holy Trinity Middle School,” Brodowicz said. “We started a freshman left tackle (Malik McGowan) and we’ve only done that once before. But the slogan we developed is ‘Next Man Up.’ A lot of that has to do with the kids paying attention. Our varsity coaches here coach JV, so when kids get pulled up the terminology and the coaching is the same. We get to know the kids and they get to know us. It’s been working.”
At Vance, Brand is trying to qualify for the state final for the first time as a head coach. His team rallied to beat Butler in overtime last week, with Brand going for a two-point conversion to win it. Two years ago, a failed conversion pass attempt against Brodowicz and Catholic cost Brand a state title berth.
“It feels good to be back” in the regional final, Brand said. “Quite frankly, it’s a better group of kids, character-wise, and it’s been fun to come to work every day with this group we have now. Not that it wasn’t fun before, but this group has better leadership, a better work ethic, and apparently a lot better luck.”
Brand was part of the Mallard Creek Mavericks’ coaching staff that played at Greensboro Page in 2011 in the 4AA regional championship and watched the Pirates, the eventual state champions, rally from a 12-point deficit to win 41-27. Brand knows how dangerous Page can be, especially at home.
“We’ve got to be able to control momentum,” Brand said. “If Page gets momentum and the crowd gets into it, gosh almighty, they’re dangerous. I can remember a couple years ago how loud it got (in the 2011) game, almost deafening for a high school crowd. So the sudden momentum shifts, we’ve got to make sure they work in our favor. That’s our key to win.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr