Despite the 285 rushing yards gained by Van Horn’s football team Thursday night – 253 of them by junior running back J.J. Rivers – and all the clean option pitches that helped them get those yards, 2 yards the Falcons didn’t get and one off-kilter pitch loomed even larger against visiting Raytown.
Twice Van Horn had first down at the 1-yard line and came away empty, and its first drive of the second half ended on a fumble from the Raytown 10 as the Blue Jays claimed a 37-18 win the teams’ regular season finale.
Rivers totaled his yardage on an incredible 45 carries – 25 for 124 yards in the first half and 20 for 129 after halftime. But Raytown’s own junior running back, Josh Drake, topped that output in less than half the attempts – 268 yards and all five of his team’s touchdowns on 21 carries – making the Falcons’ pay for their missed opportunities.
“We simply left too many scores on the field,” said Van Horn coach Jeff Tolbert, whose team will take a 7-2 record into the Class 4 district playoffs. “That’s unacceptable. There’s no excuse for that, and the entire team has to be better in that regard.”
Van Horn finished the game’s opening drive just fine, as Rivers’ 4-yard run at the 4:21 mark capped a 19-play, 67-yard drive in which he carried 13 times.
But Raytown (4-5) needed just seven plays to respond. Towering tight end Derrick Walker hauled in a 27-yard pass from Michael Baxter to the 1, and Drake scored on the next play. Brandon White then blocked a punt to set up Drake’s 9-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
Following another Van Horn punt, the Blue Jays scored in six plays. Drake ripped off a 47-yarder and Delshaun Higgins went for 19 before Drake took delayed counter handoff 20 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick bounced off the upright following a chop block penalty on the initial try, but the Blue Jays had a 20-6 lead with 6:54 left.
Tolbert said his defense just got overzealous at times Thursday.
“Raytown did a good job of using our aggressiveness against us,” he said.
Van Horn could have sliced the deficit before halftime, as Rivers’ 23-yard run highlighted an 11-play trek to the 1. But Raytown’s Shelton Johnson sliced through to stuff Rivers on first down, two plunges by fullback Demetrius Winston (13 carries, 51 yards) came up short and the defensive front plugged up Anthony Winningham’s fourth-down sneak attempt in the final minute.
The Falcons had run 43 plays to Raytown’s 15 in the first half yet still trailed by 14. The Blue Jays needed just one more play to make the deficit 21, as Drake opened the second half by finding a seam off right tackle and racing 71 yards for a touchdown.
While there was a long break in between the two sequences, Raytown coach Kevin Page said the fourth-down stop had carry-over effect.
“I knew we were getting the ball for the second half,” he said. “For our D to get a stop, we were excited. That was just a huge play for us.”
The Falcons responded by marching to the Raytown 10, but a second-down option pitch from Winningham was a bit off-target to Rivers, and Raytown’s Roanne Turner covered the loose ball.
Rivers’ 1-yard plunge capped another nine-play drive to make it 27-12 late in the third, his 43-yard sprint early in the fourth helped the Falcons move back to the 1 on 11 plays. But Brandon White dropped Rivers for a 2-yard loss on fourth down, and a holding penalty, incompletion and blitzing Eric Sylvan’s sack produced fourth down from the 24.
The Falcons tried a halfback pass by Rivers, and Nolan Ingold was open at first, but Rivers’ throw was a bit short and detected by Sylvan, who intercepted in the end zone.
When it came to running the ball though, Tolbert couldn’t have been more impressed with Rivers.
“His vision was outstanding tonight,” Tolbert said of the 5-foot-9, 165-pounder. “One thing we’ve been talking to him about was having a little nasty attitude about him, lowering his shoulder and making the guy pay. I thought he showed some of that.”
For good measure, Drake burst 54 yards up the middle to set up his last TD plunge. Van Horn’s Marquis Bever went 70 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff after Nathan Ingold fumbled the initial return, but Aaron Spradley added a 38-yard field goal with 3:34 left to essentially clinch the win.
“Our offensive line did a great job tonight, and we executed some things the way we wanted to,” Page said. “(The Falcons) have some good players, and for us to win there were some things we needed to do well.”