Vance coach distraught after nailbiting finals loss
Three plays spoiled Vance High’s chances at a state championship that Cougars coach Aaron Brand just knew his team could win.
Standing in the hallway of the Duke University press box, Brand tugged at his white hat, the same way he did during a post-game news conference moments after the final.
About a half hour earlier, Vance lost 9-7 toWake Forest in a game that turned in the final minute. And it was those three plays that Brand couldn’t stop talking about:
●● bad snap on a punt that gave Wake Forest the ball inside the Vance 20. Vance was attempting to punt at its 15. Wake Forest got the ball at the Vance 13.
●● few plays later, Vance’s Stefon Thompson blocked a potential championship-winning field goal attempt from the Vance 4 with 42 seconds left. It appeared to save the day, but a Vance player dove on the ball at the 1 instead of allowing it to roll harmlessly into the end zone. If it rolls in, Vance gets the ball at the 20. Instead, it got the ball at the 1.
●On the next play, Vance had trouble with the quarterback-running back handoff. The ball hit the ground. Vance recovered, but the Cougars were tackled in the end zone with 32 seconds to play. The safety was the championship-winning points.
“That guy (the long snapper) hadn’t had a bad snap all year,” Brand said. “In that situation, we should’ve called for a drier ball. It got stuck. Then those guys bowed their neck and blocked the field goal. We were playing for overtime. Then we ran the ball and I saw people showing the safety sign. I said, ‘No way. No way.’ I thought the ball was out of the end zone. This will live with me forever.”
Brand was equal parts preacher and disappointed dad, getting emotional telling a collection of statewide media how much getting to the championship meant and how playing so poorly, at key moments, ultimately hurt.
And he kept tugging at that hat.
“I was very confident we would win,” Brand said. “From the beginning of the game until the last play. I knew if we kept pecking at it and pecking at it, we’d find a seam or (running back Joseph) Morris would break one or we would get a (deep pass) to Nyier (Clark). I amvery disappointed.”
Vance led 7-0 early, going 77 yards in two plays to start the game, but the Cougars’ offense broke down after that. Their next 42 plays netted 76 yards. Unable to run the ball, Brand said Wake Forest dropped eight defenders back to defend his three receivers.
So even though Brand felt his team would find a big play, none came. Wake Forest won its 45th straight game and its third straight championship. Brand was left to think about next year, when he returns eight defensive starters and the bulk of his offense, which will likely have freshman Cameron Kromah at starting quarterback.
“It means a lot to our program and our community to get here,” Brand said. “We told them we were happy to be here, but it just wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, they did everything they could. The blame is on us as a coaching staff. We’ve got to make plays in the second half. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
And, at the end, Brand watched those three plays ruin his state championship hopes.
“Those plays will haunt me the rest of my life,” he said, “at least until we can get back here. To have it right there and kind of smell the dragon’s breath a little bit. When you are playing a team that has won this many games in a row, you’ve got to take advantage of mistakes they make and field position you get because it’s not going to happen often.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t do that, and they made more plays than we did.”
Vance players watch as Wake Forest is presented the championship trophy after defeating Vance 9-7 in the NCSHAA State 4AA High School Championship on Friday.