CHARLOTTE – The Myers Park football team came out of the gates strong on Dec. 7, but gave way to a Vance run game and defense that limited the Mustangs trademark big plays and ended their season with a 21-13 loss in the Western Regional final on Dec. 7.
The Mustangs got going early when quarterback Drake Maye connected with Andre Francois and later with star receiver Elijah Bowick on big passing plays. Maye would do the damage himself, though, as he scored the game’s first touchdown on a sneak from eight yards out.
Later, Maye hit Muhsin Muhammad on an 8-yard strike to give the Mustangs a 13-0 lead after Vance blocked the extra-point try, but they wouldn’t be able to hold on.
One key reason was the loss of star lineman and South Carolina commit Jaylen Nichols, who plays on both sides of the ball and is a space eater at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds.
“That was very difficult to overcome for us because he was a big factor in us not being able to stop the run and a factor in us not protecting Drake in the second half,” Myers Park coach Scott Chadwick said.
Without Nichols, Vance started to rev up a run game that would produce a pair of 100-yard rushers on the night and lead to over 225 yards on the ground.
Andre White Jr. opened the scoring for the Cougars on a 1-yard run that capped a long drive to cut the Mustang lead to 13-7.
After Maye was intercepted on the next series, White again capped a long drive to give the Cougars the 14-13 lead a minute before halftime.
Joseph Morris scored on a 30-yard run for the only second half score from either team. The Mustangs had their chances, including on their final drive where they got into Vance territory before turning the ball over on downs.
Maye finished with 200 passing yards, but was 12-of-33. He was pressured all night, including on two sacks.
Although the outcome is a disappointment for Chadwick, it’s also a complete turnaround from where he was just five seasons ago.
In 2014, Chadwick’s first at Myers Park, the Mustangs were 5-7 but slipped into the playoffs. Their reward was a trip to Mallard Creek where Myers Park got bludgeoned 42-14.
At the time, it seemed the Mustangs were out of their league.
Chadwick said there were a few fans on the visitor sideline that night for Myers Park, but nowhere near the support his team received on Dec. 7, when the visitor’s bleachers were full and fans were spewing onto the track and toward the Vance sideline.
“There is a different atmosphere around the program,” Chadwick said. “I had a buddy tell me the other night that at 7:45 they were thinking about shutting down the gate on our side of the field because of how overflowing it was on our side. To be able to have that kind of support now is unreal.”
But that’s what comes with being one of the state’s top teams – something Chadwick and his senior class have built quite literally from the ground up.
Five years ago, Chadwick said, he and his staff started with a plan.
“It’s been a progression,” he said. “Our original thought was that we needed to compete in our own area. My first couple years we couldn’t beat Ardrey Kell, South Meck and Providence and we really struggled to compete with those teams.
“But now we have done that, and the next step was attacking the rest of Charlotte. We knew by attacking Charlotte, we’re already automatically at the top of the state because this is where the best teams in the state are. I think now we’ve put ourselves in the conversation.”
The Mustang seniors – in particular Bowick, Juwan Truesdale and Jordan King who started as freshmen – have won a program-record 44 games in four seasons.
“That class and I have kind of grown together. What they leave behind is incredible,” Chadwick said. “Oftentimes numbers don’t tell the whole story, but when you look at what those guys accomplished when they were here I think numbers do tell the whole story. Before those guys came into high school, seven of the past eight years at Myers Park had been losing seasons. Those guys are going to leave with 11, 12 and 13 wins in their last three years. It’s crazy. I don’t know if any of us thought that would happen when they entered high school four years ago. What they leave behind is a totally different program and a completely new culture.”