HENNWS-10-12-21-VIPERS

Vance County celebrates following its 18-12 win Friday over conference rival South Granville.

HENDERSON — Vance County’s 4-1 record entering Friday night’s football game with one-win South Granville might have been anticipated on paper, but the raucous celebration on the Vipers’ sideline following their 18-12 victory belied that notion.

Wins over South Granville have been hard for Vance County teams to come by for years. Even though the Vipers now play in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A classification, one above its Granville county conference rival, Friday’s Vance County victory was another milestone for a program that continues to carve out its identity in the region.

“We’ve beaten two 4A schools: Riverside and Northern Durham,” Vance County Athletic Director Joe Sharrow said shortly following the game. “We just beat South Granville, which is a team that has given Vance County fits for years.”

That might be putting it kindly.

Vance County, Northern Vance and Southern Vance had been outscored by South Granville by a combined 278-30 from 2014-18. The last win over Mike Hobgood’s South Granville program by a Vance County high school had been a 22-14 triumph by Southern Vance in 2013.

Vance County should have the better talent pool now than South Granville, but nothing is a given against a Vikings team coached by Hobgood. South Granville had found offensive success as a triple-option team the past several years before switching back to the I-formation mid-season this year with an inexperienced quarterback under center. The young Vikings’ top rusher, Micah Wilkerson, also left Friday’s game in the first half with an injury and did not return.

The last time Southern Vance beat South Granville, it was considered an upset. This win was different, perhaps another sign of how expectations have changed for Vance County, even under a new coach, Wilbur Pender.

Friday marked the second-ever meeting between the two schools since the Vance County high schools consolidated, with South Granville having claimed a 55-18 win over the Vipers in 2018.

“I don’t think tonight was an upset,” Sharrow said. “If you look at the two records, that’s obvious, but anybody who knows high school football knows that [South Granville] is a team that’s better than their record. They have played some amazing programs. They played a heck of a game tonight. I’m just really proud of our program. I’m proud of Coach Pender. I’m proud of our kids. We’ve come a long way.”

South Granville played a brutal non-conference slate, logging losses to four power programs: Wake Forest’s Heritage (4A), Lee County (3A), Southern Nash (3A), and Durham’s Hillside (4A).

Hobgood said he expects Vance County to be strong year in and year out if it can establish some consistency.

“They’re big up front,” Hobgood said of the Vipers. “They have good size ... They kind of dwarf us, at least height wise. They’ve got some big dudes. I think their defense is probably a little bit ahead of their offense, but they’re good at kind of finding the weakness in coverage and taking advantage of it. They’re always going to have good athletes.”

The 3A state playoffs are now well within the grasp of Vance County (5-1, 2-0 Northern Lakes Athletic Conference), as is a league title. Regardless of what happens this week for the Vipers at Granville Central, the conference champion appears likely to be decided by an Oct. 22 home date with preseason league favorite Southern Durham (3-4, 2-0).

The last time the Spartans came to town in 2019, Vance County had gotten off to a 6-0 start to its season before being shut out by Southern Durham 34-0 in front of a lively Vipers crowd.

“I really hope our community comes out and supports us,” Sharrow said. “That’s our next home game and I want to see packed stands, and hopefully we can make this community proud.”