CLEMMONS — Big plays can lead to a wave of momentum, especially in the quarterfinals of a tournament.
That was certainly the case Friday night at Jerry Peoples Stadium, when No. 10 Charlotte Vance walloped No. 3 West Forsyth 35-7 in the NCHSAA Class 4-AA playoffs.
The big plays for Vance (11-2) started on the first offensive play of the game when quarterback Austin Grier threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payne to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game.
“That was a big play, but we thought at that point we thought we were going to be OK,” said Coach Adrian Snow of the Titans. “Big plays — they’ve been a big-play offense a lot of the year, done a lot of great things. (Grier) gets out in space and causes you problems, and (Payne) played well.”
The Titans finished the season 11-2 after winning the Central Piedmont 4-A championship.
“But you know what, it’s one of those things, man, high school football don’t end well for about eight people,” Snow said. “But these kids have done a heck of a job. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done — a conference championship. There’s no way in the world, I’m talking about 11-2; 11-2 is awesome.”
Grier finished the game 14-for-21 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. Vance advances to play at No. 1 Richmond Senior, which defeated No. 4 Charlotte Myers Park, next week in the NCHSAA Class 4-AA Western Regional final.
“It gave us some juice,” Grier said of the touchdown pass. “From then on out it was pretty much our game. You know, a lot of people didn’t believe that we could do it after beating (Charlotte Mallard) Creek (last week) because everybody’s pretty much lost after they beat them. We wanted to come out and make a statement.”
Scoring against West Forsyth so early quickly showed that the Titans were in for an uphill battle.
“Yeah I had to pull the defense in, and I just had to calm them down a little bit,” said senior linebacker Giovanni Ricciardi of West Forsyth. “’Hey, look at the time left. There’s (12) minutes left in the first quarter. Do the math. I mean we’ve got a long ballgame to play and I really believe we’re going to win.’
“Our guys believed we were going to win and hats off to them. They’re a great team. But I still believe in our guys.”
The Cougars tacked on another touchdown on a 15-yard run by Stefon Thompson with 7:29 left in the second quarter to push the lead to 14-0.
But the Titans responded when G’mone Wilson, who missed part of last week’s game with what appeared to be a head injury, returned and scored on a 12-yard run to slice the lead to 14-7 with 4 minutes left.
Vance had a chance to extend the lead just before halftime, but Melvin Benitez missed a 38-yard field goal attempt with 7.4 seconds left.
“We were feeling confident,” said Ricciardi. “We weren’t really too worried. We actually got — we were joking around in a good way, a relaxed way, like, ‘We’ve got this, we’ve got this.’
“This team from other teams in the past, I’ve never seen this team panic really. No one really hit the panic button.”
Grier scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:04 left to push the Cougars' lead to 21-7.
“When they scored it picked up our sense of urgency,” he said. “You know, sometimes it’s kind of hard to keep it going after you get a little lead. That definitely woke us back up.”
Vance broke the game open early in the fourth quarter when Joseph Morris scored on an 82-yard to make the score 28-7 with 10:09 left.
“That’s the thing with offense,” said Coach Glenwood Ferebee of the Cougars. “We’re trying to find consistency. Penalties kill drives, holdings, turnovers, things like that. You know, the negative plays — they kill drives. So, you know, once we clean that stuff up, we’ll be fine.”
Vance capped its scoring when Daylon Smothers caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Grier with 5:24 left.
Vance finished with 560 yards of offense, and West Forsyth had 175.
“I think eventually it just snowballed on us there at the end,” Snow said. “You know, it’s one of those things. But sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get rained out.”
V — Jordan Payne 69 pass from Austin Grier (Melvin Benitez kick)
V — Stefon Thompson 15 run (Benitez kick)
WF — G’mone Wilson 12 run (Jaylen James kick)
V — Austin Grier 1 run (Benitez kick)
V — Joseph Morris 82 run (Benitez kick)
V — Daylon Smothers 19 pass from Grier (Benitez kick)
Records: Charlotte Vance 11-2; West Forsyth 11-2