Every time Heritage tried to move the ball off the line of scrimmage against North Carolina powerhouse Vance High on Friday night, the Cougars were ready to pounce.
They bounded off the defensive line like the Division I recruits they are. They sniffed out ball carriers sprinting out of the backfield. And they leaped on receivers anytime Heritage tried a short route out of the crowded line of scrimmage.
Looking more like a well-tuned college team, Charlotte-based Vance High, from North Carolina’s highest classification of 4AA, bounded away for a 35-7 victory over the reigning Class 3 Virginia champs at City Stadium on the first Friday of high school football for 2019.
Defense wasn’t all the Cougars displayed. Quarterback Austin Grier threw for a massive 374 yards, completing 21 of his 32 passes and wowing the crowd by often throwing bombs over the Heritage defense that speedy receivers tracked down under tight coverage from the Pioneers.
“They’re a great football team,” Heritage coach Brad Bradley said. “I saw some positive things out of our team. I thought we fought.
“But we made too many mistakes to give a great football team opportunities. You can’t do that.”
The Pioneers (0-1) lost for the first time since Aug. 31 of last year, when they suffered a crushing loss to Northside before reeling off 13 straight victories.
Vance (1-0) forced HHS into numerous three-and-outs with little-to-no yardage gains.
“I inherited some good players,” first-year Vance coach Glenwood Ferebee, the former Indian River coach who once played at Liberty University, said. “And they came out and played tonight. … It’s the same as when I watched film on [Vance] before I took the job. They fly to the football, and that’s the thing about this team: everybody’s aggressive.”
They certainly were. Vance often sent not one or two tacklers to the line but a gang of them, including 6-foot-1 Power Echols, a middle linebacker who has more than a dozen offers from Power 5 schools.
Grier threw two touchdown passes, a 25-yarder and a 22-yarder. His teammate Stephon Thompson scored twice on short runs.
Trailing 35-0 after a running clock was instituted early in the fourth quarter, Heritage finally got on the board with 2:31 remaining when quarterback Kameron Burns ran in a 2-yarder and new starting kicker Karson Adcock hit the extra point.
Burns completed 7 of 17 passes for 34 yards.
Duece Crawford led the receiving corps with four catches for 29 yards. The bulk of the run game came from KJ Vaughan (51 yards on 16 carries) and newcomer Silas Rucker (seven totes for 39 yards).
Heritage’s lone score was cause for celebration at a packed City Stadium, since Vance still had its starters on the field late in the game.
“We knew they were a good football team and all, but we did good, to be honest,” Heritage all-state linebacker Krystian Rivera said. “As much as they said they were gonna blow us out, we didn’t worry about that. We played our game.
“They were saying, ‘Look at the scoreboard, look at the scoreboard,’ but at the end of the game, we were still fighting. They were like, ‘Why are y’all excited?’ Because we’re Heritage, and we’re gonna keep fighting until there are zeroes on the clock.”
Bradley was impressed by the way Vance rallied around the football on defense.
His team put up 134 yards of total offense to Vance’s 484 total yards.
“We couldn’t get outside on them, we couldn’t take advantage of some of the things we like to do against a team more of our size; but at the end of the day we stood up to the challenge, we came out healthy and I think we’re gonna learn a lot from this,” Bradley said. “ … But there are no moral victories at Heritage High School.”
Vance entered ranked the 100th best team in the country by Maxpreps.com. Bradley set up the game last winter, a couple months after winning the state title.
“We didn’t schedule this as a benefit game,” the coach said, referencing tough competition teams sometimes face in the preseason.
“We scheduled this to count. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.