Making the stop

Vance County defensive back Sai’Mir Best makes a tackle on a Cedar Ridge player during his team’s 20-14 victory on Thursday evening, the program’s first in an abbreviated season.

HILLSBOROUGH -- A season of adversity and uncertainty for the Vance County High School football team ended on a strong note Thursday evening with the program defeating Cedar Ridge 20-14 for their first win of the year.

Head coach Hunter Jenks has been open about the struggles Vance County has dealt with in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic but he was ecstatic that the sacrifices and effort his players put in all year paid off with a victory.

“This feels really good,” Jenks said. “Everybody that played tonight played their best football of the year. Cedar Ridge played hard tonight and hats off to them, but I’m really excited for the kids.”

Vance County nearly found the end zone on their first possession of the evening but the drive ended up stalling out at the Cedar Ridge 21-yard line, forcing Vance County to fall back on defense.

Cedar Ridge took advantage of Vance County’s lack of cohesion by carving their way through the opposing defense. Senior quarterback Elijah Whitaker capped off the drive with a rushing touchdown but Vance County blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to keep the score at 6-0.

Vance County’s defense made sure to not give Whitaker much room to work with for the remainder of the first half. Despite this, Vance County’s offense continued to miss out on opportunities that would have given them the lead.

The ground attack for Vance County finally started to gain ground in the closing seconds of the half with junior running Davion Vines-Holder knocking off a big run at midfield to put the ball at the Cedar Ridge two-yard line. Sophomore Chico Taylor proceeded to fight his way into the endzone to send Vance County into the intermission with an 8-6 lead.

An interception by Whitaker at the start of the third quarter only gave Vance County’s run game more life. Sophomore running back Shamar Foster evaded Cedar Ridge defenders and exploded for a 50-yard touchdown run that put Vance County up 14-6.

Cedar Ridge attempted to respond with Whitaker and sophomore running back Aiden Seagroves gaining chunk yardage over several plays but Vance County’s defense held at the goal line and forced Cedar Ridge into committing a turnover on downs.

A risky decision by Jenks to go for a 4th and short deep in Vance County territory backfired and gave Cedar Ridge great field position. Senior Sai’Mir Best made the play of the game for Vance County moments later by picking off Whitaker in the back corner of the endzone.

Vance County kept the ball on the ground in a time-consuming fourth quarter drive that saw Vines-Holder pound his way into the endzone. Whitaker took advantage of a short field from a kickoff out of bounds to find senior wide receiver Desi Raspberry for a touchdown, cutting Vance County’s lead down to six points with just over two minutes remaining.

An onside kick by Cedar Ridge was recovered by Vance County allowing them to run out the clock on their first win of the season, resulting in Jenks receiving a Gatorade shower from his players.

Jenks was pleased to see the run game get established and become a dominant weapon for Vance County during the evening, adding that cleaning up mistakes on offense is what enabled Vines-Holder, Foster and others to get comfortable in the backfield.

Jenks added that he hopes to never experience anything like the delayed 2020 high school football season again but he enjoyed the time spent with his players and watching them develop into strong young men.

“These guys grew tremendously,” Jenks said. “We’ve got a small senior class but hopefully they’ve learned something from the coaches and know what they’re doing with their future. I feel like the program is heading in the right direction and I’m glad we could end the season with a win.”

Only five months stand in between of Vance County’s season-finale and next year’s opener but he plans to have his new and returning players train as much as reasonably possible over the summer so Vance County will be prepared to win more than one game in the fall.