|Vance High defense rises to occasion in the 4AA playoffs|
|Mallard Creek upset is latest accomplishment|
|Published Wednesday, November 27, 2019 9:55 am|
|PHOTO | PAUL WILLIAMS III|
|Vance linebackers Power Echols, left, and Stefon Thompson are two of the best players on a unit that allows 9.7 points per game this season.|
Vance High is a threat in the N.C. 4AA playoffs because of defense.
The Cougars, who play at West Forsyth Friday in the third round, allow an average of 9.7 points per game, highlighted by a paltry seven points between Butler and Mallard Creek in the first two rounds of the state tournament. Vance, which lost to Mallard Creek 17-7 in the regular season, knocked their I-Meck conference rival 13-7 last week in the second round on Austin Grier’s 33-yard touchdown pass with 48 seconds to play.
“Everybody doubted us,” said first-year defensive coordinator Anthony Hackett, the lone holdover from previous coach Aaron Brand’s staff that took the Cougars to last year’s state final. “Nobody gave us a chance – the media, ex-coaches, former players who transferred out, everybody in the city of Charlotte. Our kids fought. I knew [by] the look in their eyes they’d come out and give it to me. We’re still mad we gave up seven.”
No defense handcuffed Mallard Creek like Vance’s, which held the Mavericks to 186 yards, with 50 on the ground. Aside from Quasean Holmes’ 13-yard touchdown run that put the Mavericks ahead 7-3 in the second quarter, Mallard Creek struggled to crack the Cougars. Dylan Tucker picked off a pair of passes, and Jordan Harris’ interception in the end zone on Mallard Creek’s final possession closed the door. It tracks closely to Vance’s work all season, in which they posted four shutouts.
“Our defense kind of carried the team all year,” Hackett said. “We knew the offense’s capability, we just didn’t want them to make any turnovers, make any penalties. We felt like if we could win the turnover battle, we’d have a chance at the end.”
That’s what the Cougars did. Vance’s defense forced three turnovers – all interceptions – while the offense didn’t cough up a giveaway despite gaining only 166 yards. Eighty-one of those yards were produced on the final drive in which Vance converted three fourth-down opportunities.
“We got support from the offense,” Hackett said. “The first game, we had opportunities on the field, too, but we didn’t capitalize off it. We wanted to make sure we executed and took advantage of all the big plays given to us.”
This week’s Magnificent Seven:
1. Myers Park. (12-0). The Mustangs are headed to their toughest test of the year at Richmond Senior. The Raiders measure success against Mecklenburg County teams. Myers Park has the gaudiest record of the bunch.
2. Vance (10-2). The Cougars bagged Mallard Creek, which would generally make their season, but there’s a larger goal – win the state title that eluded last year’s team. The next step is at West Forsyth.
3. Mallard Creek (10-1-1). Losing to Vance isn’t shocking. How it happened – with little offensive production and four turnovers – is.
4. Ardrey Kell (11-2). A 10-game win streak makes this the Knights’ best season ever.
5. Hough (8-4). Lost to Richmond Senior in the second.
6. Olympic (8-4). Lost to Hough in the first round.
7. Butler (8-4). Lost to Vance in the first round.
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