Vance High senior quarterback Austin Grier is pretty good at this state championship game thing.
As a junior, he threw for 127 yards and a score, and he ran for 46 yards in the Cougars’ breakthrough 24-3 win over Leesville Road. After losing to Wake Forest in the final minute in the 2018 state final, Vance won its first state championship a year later.
Saturday at N.C. State, Vance played Rolesville High, attempting to become the first repeat class 4A state champion from Mecklenburg County since Mallard Creek won three in a row from 2013-15.
And Grier, again, was really, really good.
“I knew he was going to step up to the occasion,” Vance coach Glenwood Ferebee said of Grier. “He was in this game last year, and he had a big game. I always tell him that (his) feet are (his) biggest weapon and he used them early and made smart plays.”
Even with Grier playing well, Vance (10-1) was not especially sharp to start the game.
The Cougars began with a string of penalties. An early turnover on a muffed punt allowed Rolesville to tie the score at 7, when it looked like Vance might grab some early momentum.
Later, more penalties and a short punt gave Rolesville a short field. The Rams turned that into a 14-13 second quarter lead.
So what does Grier do?
He calmly leads the Cougars on an 80-yard drive to regain the lead before halftime. And after cleaning up their play after the break, Vance scored two more times and allowed Roleville just four yards of offense.
In short, Grier and the Cougars left no doubt as to who was the best team, in any class, in North Carolina this year.
“It feels great, man,” said Grier, who will play in the Ivy League, at Columbia, this fall. “When I first came here, there were a lot of expectations one me. And (this year), it was a lot to respond to and come back with all the COVID (related issues) and other things we had to deal with it.”
Turns out, Grier dealt with everything — including the pressure of being QB1 at N.C. school No. 1 — pretty well.
In his two-year career at Vance, he led the Cougars to a 24-3 overall record and nine playoff wins, all on the road. He beat two unbeaten Eastern regional champions in the state final.
Vance’s defense was unreal in the championships, too, allowing 80 total yards to Leesville Road and just 67 to Rolesville Saturday.
But Grier was pretty good, too.
Vance is changing its school name to Julius Chambers this summer, but whatever the Cougars call their Hall of Fame, Mr. Grier should be in it.
“To make it through these 11 weeks, with all the adversity we faced,” he said, “it feels amazing. And it hit hasn’t sunk in yet.”