Vance High’s football team has a saying that the Cougars always bring up when things get tough.
So when Myers Park took a two-touchdown lead and Vance was about to punt back to the Mustangs in the N.C. 4AA Western Regional championship game Friday night, Cougars coach Aaron Brand reminded his team to “stand by the road.”
“That means don’t falter, don’t worry,” Brand said. “You stand by the road and hope that something good will come up, that somebody will come pick you up and you’ll find your way.”
Vance stopped Myers Park on downs and then ran off 21 straight points. The Cougars beat Myers Park 21-13 and will advance to the first state championship in school history.
The Cougars (14-1), who set a school record for wins, will face Wake Forest (13-0) at Duke next week for the state title. Wake Forest has won the past two 4AA state titles, beating Mallard Creek 21-0 in the 2017 final and beating Greensboro Page 29-0 in 2016. The Cougars’ 44-game win streak is one of the longest in the nation.
Brand knows which team will be a heavy title favorite.
“We’ve been underdogs all year,” he said before I could get the question out. “We’ll go up there (to Duke) and put it all out there and see if we can make something shake. We’ll put it all on the line.”
Brand, 43, was coaching in his fourth regional final in the past five years. He had been to state championships once as a player in 1992 and five times as an assistant coach at Independence (2004-07) and Mallard Creek (2013).
Until Friday night, he never qualified for one as a head coach.
“We were resilient tonight, brother,” Brand said. “But it feels like it still isn’t enough. It’s a little bit of a monkey off my back, but I feel like we’ve got a lot more to do. I feel like we’ve got a lot more left in us.”
To get one more win will be a monumental task. Wake Forest is nationally ranked and outscoring opponents, on average, 44-9. In three playoff games, Wake Forest’s Cougars have scored 145 points and allowed 24.
But all Brand said he ever wanted was a chance at a state championship as a head coach. Next Friday or Saturday in Durham, he’ll have his shot.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight,” he said. “I feel like we haven’t had our best game yet in the playoffs or this year. Like I said, I feel we have more left. So we’ll try to make the state championship our best game.”
↑Southern Carolinas conference: 3A league sends Charlotte Catholic (3A) and Weddington (3AA) to the state finals next week.
↑Chester: Cyclones beat Dillon 34-28 in the S.C. 3A state final Friday. Chester finished 15-0 and won the state title for the first time in the school’s 55-year history.
↑Shelby: Will make its fifth state finals appearance in six seasons after beating Lenoir Hibriten 28-21. Quarterback Isaiah Bess hit Diavonni Daley with the game-winning pass with 58 seconds left.
▪ Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz said back in August that he felt this could be the best defense that Catholic’s ever had. The Cougars have played like it all season. Friday’s 30-7 win over Kings Mountain was further proof of that. Kings Mountain came in averaging more than 40 points per game this season.
Kings Mountain also was averaging more than 400 yards per game. The Mountaineers had 169 against Catholic.
The Cougars will play Jacksonville (11-1) in the state final next week. Jacksonville, the No. 6 seed in the East, rallied from 21 points down to upset No. 1 seed Havelock 41-34. Jacksonville, averaging nearly 44 points per game, will provide one final test for Catholic’s defense.
The guess here? Big Red passes. And wins another state title.
▪ The N.C. High School Athletic Association will hold its annual state championship news conference Wednesday morning in Raleigh. It’s usually held on Monday, but with heavy snow forecast throughout the state, it was moved back this year.
Most years, attending the conference can put western teams at a disadvantage as coaches often can’t return to campus on time for a full practice. The eastern teams, usually, don’t have that issue.
So if snow postpones Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte Monday and Tuesday, which is possible, Vance might not practice until Wednesday and Brand would be at the press conference until the early afternoon.
I think this year, a conference call should be substituted.
“I don’t like the press conference schedule,” Brand said. “But we tell the guys to control the controllable. We can’t control where or when they have the press conference, and apparently we couldn’t control where they played the game tonight (CMS moved the game to Mallard Creek). But that’s why I’ve got good (assistant coaches) around me. I can’t stress about it. I cannot control it. I have zero say so. I’ve got enough stress on me as it is. I’m not going to stress on that.”
By The Numbers
42-18: In the first half of the teams’ N.C. 2AA Western Regional final, Shelby ran 42 plays. Hibriten ran eight. Shelby led (just) 14-7.
5: Weddington scored on its first five possessions in a 45-12 win over Mount Tabor in the N.C. 3AA Western Regional final. Warriors QB Whitner Litton was 13-for-19 passing for 141 yards and a score.
2012: Indian Trail Porter Ridge, which lost 32-14 to East Forsyth, had its best season since finishing 13-2 in 2012 and reaching the state final.
Isaiah Bess, Shelby: He completed 25-of-42 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Shelby beat Lenoir Hibriten 28-21 and ended Hibriten’s 30-game win streak. Shelby won its 11th straight game.
Joseph Morris, Vance: 21 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown in a 21-13 win over Myers Park. Teammate Nate Lynn had two sacks and a forced fumble.
Muhsin Muhammad, Myers Park: He had seven catches for 116 yards in 21-13 loss to Vance in the N.C. 4AA semifinal. He had two kickoff returns for 30 or more yards. Teammate Roe Chitwood had two tackles for a loss and a sack.
Michael Neel, Charlotte Catholic: He caught five passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns in a 30-7 win over Kings Mountain in the N.C. 3AA semifinals.
Will Shipley, Weddington: He had a sack and intercpetion in 45-12 win at Mount Tabor. He also ran 17 times for 73 yards.Andre White, Vance: 19 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Myers Park.