Columns & Blogs

Wertz: Vance football, Brand quickly earning respect

Vance High first-year football coach Aaron Brand is not shy. He promised in July that he would have a quick and profound effect on the program.

So far, Brand has been a man of his word.

The Cougars (2-1) are ranked No. 16 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll and No. 9 in the Carolina Preps N.C. 4A poll. These are places Vance hasn’t been too often. Last week, Brand’s team went toe-to-toe with mighty Richmond Senior, in Rockingham. Vance had the ball deep in Richmond Senior territory with a chance to win on the game’s final play . Richmond won 42-37, but Vance won statewide respect. This week, Brand’s team plays another state power, at Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe.

For the season, Vance averages 46 points per game, nearly 15 points better than any former Vance team . Yes, it’s early in the season and that number can change, but Brand has brought change to Vance, which has had one winning season since 2010.

• Brand is known for developing offensive stars. He’s bringing along a few off IBM Drive. Last week against Richmond, quarterback Omar Baker was 21-for-31 for 351 yards and four touchdowns. He ran 10 times for 103 yards and another score. Receiver Jonathan Ifedi caught nine passes for 200 yards and a score.

• For years, the Southwestern 4A was the state’s most balanced and strongest conference. After three weeks of the 2014 season, the conference is a combined 8-13. Five of the seven teams have a losing record and three haven’t won a game. Up top, unbeaten Butler (3-0) and Independence (3-0) look strong. The Patriots have yet to allow a point.

• North Iredell is off to its best start in nine years, after last week’s 41-14 win over West Wilkes.

• The second-leading rusher in the Observer-area and No. 7 in the state is Community School of Davidson’s Joey Bernardini, a junior who has rushed 56 times for 559 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averages a healthy 10.4 yards per carry. Providence Day’s Gabe Montgomery (561) is No. 1 in the area and sixth in North Carolina.

• South Iredell coach Scott Miller missed Friday’s 31-0 win over Starmount after his son, Gavin, required emergency brain surgery earlier that day. Assistants Kyle Riddle and Brent Bustle split coaching duties and many staff and fans wore orange shirts with “Pray for Gavin” on them. After the game, a large group of fans gathered on the field to pray for his recovery. South Iredell has a bye this week. Gavin’s surgery lasted more than four hours and doctors removed more than 90 percent of the mass. Miller told the Statesville Record & Landmark on Wednesday that the tumor was benign. On Monday, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen spent some time with Gavin and coach Miller tweeted photos of the visit.

• Have a feeling that Belmont’s South Point High won’t stay down long. The team took a44-39 come-from-behind win over 2A Shelby last week, as 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior defensive back Tanner Muse had seven tackles and an 80-yard interception return for touchdown. South Point (1-2) – which had a 37-game regular-season win streak snapped this year – plays regional power Asheville Reynolds on Friday at home.

• East Lincoln’s Triston Dennis had 17 tackles in last week’s 28-27 win against previously unbeaten North Lincoln. East Lincoln quarterback Chazz Surratt threw for 273 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards and another score. He also blocked a point-after attempt by North Lincoln late in the game.

• How did Mooresville beat Hopewell to improve to 3-0 last week? Senior kicker Harris Gerwitz made four field goals (23, 21, 33 and 32 yards) and the Blue Devils’ defense played well when it had to. That defense is led by Jamil Dukes and Tyler Deihl, who have combined for nine sacks in three games.