Vance High School, the reigning N.C. 4AA state champion, found some championship mettle on the road in south Charlotte Friday.
The Cougars rallied from a 12-point, third-quarter deficit, raising their level, and Vance rallied to beat Ardrey Kell 44-28.
The Vance defense, which had been battered by Ardrey Kell quarterback Jack Curtis all game, began to pressure the Knights junior, who left the game in the fourth quarter. Vance began to get pressure and the Cougars forced three turnovers after falling behind by two scores, 28-16, early in the third quarter — when Curtis found Nathan Francis on back-to-back plays for 85 yards and a touchdown.
The game lasted more than three hours and featured 27 combined penalties for 254 yards.
Ardrey Kell pulled out all the stops, starting the game with an onside kick and trying another right after its first score. The Knights ran pooch kicks, fake punts and used a fast-paced offense that relied on quick passes to counteract the Vance defense, which is typically aggressive.
Curtis had more than 300 yards passing. Receiver Brevin Caldwell had more than 200 total yards of offense. Ardrey Kell left nothing in the playbook, hunting what may’ve been the biggest win in the school’s 15-year history.
But Vance, which will play a rematch at Hough next week, still found a way.
Down 28-16, the Cougars scored 28 straight points. Asaunti Allen had a rushing touchdown and a 52-yard pass catch from Austin Grier. Jeremiah Smith, who also had a fourth-quarter interception, had 59-yard punt return to set up a score.
Grier threw for more than 200 yards. Sophomore Daylan Smothers rushed for more than 150 and receiver Songa Yates had more than 150 yards receiving.
The Cougars suddenly morphed into a team gifted with lots of playmakers, speed and championship experience.
And, finally, that was enough.
Vance 13 3 16 12 — 44
Ardrey Kell 7 14 7 0 —28
V: Asauni Allen 1 run (Melvin Benitez kick)
AK: Josh Johnson 12 pass from Jack Curtis (Alex Chillcott kick)
V: Songa Yates 70 pass from Austin Grier (kick failed)
AK: Brevin Caldwell 3 pass from Curtis (Chillcott kick)
V: FG Benitez 26
AK: Curtis 8 run (Chillcott kick)
AK: Nathan Francis 43 pass from Curtis (Chillcott kick)
V: Daylan Smothers 3 run (Benitez kick)
V: Asauni Allen 3 run (Kevin Concepcion run)
V: Asauani Allen 52 pass from Austin Grier (kick failed)
V: Joseph Morris 19 run (Benitez kick)