Charlie Pugh had a quiet confidence his team would come through.
Pugh, Truman’s first-year football head coach, had no sense of panic when Van Horn decided to go for 2 after having pulled within 22-21 with less than 90 seconds left Friday at Independence All-School Stadium.
After all, Pugh has Caleb Loa on his team.
Loa and fellow senior linebacker Juan Flores stopped Falcons running back Terrion Seddens short of the goal line to preserve Truman's 22-21 win.
"It was just a feeling," Pugh said of his gut reaction before the 2-point conversion attempt. "It wasn't because they had just marched down the field, but our defense ... those guys rise to the occasion. They stepped up and saved the game for us."
It marked a fitting end, as Loa marked one of the significant reasons the Patriots won after helping keep the Falcons offense in check most of the game on defense, blocking a punt on special teams and rushing for 126 yards and two touchdowns on offense.
"When (Seddens) is in at quarterback we figured he was going to keep the ball," Loa said. "Juan made first contact and I had to come with the boom after that.”
Pugh noted Loa not only had a special night, but that he’s a special player.
“He’s an animal,” Pugh said. “He really can do anything you tell him to do. He’s played guard for us. He’s one of those guys that has a motor that keeps on going and going and going. I’m very, very glad he’s able to be with us because he’s a big part of who we are and what we’re trying to do.”
In addition to Loa in the Patriots rushing attack, Truman fed Dave Rivera most of the game as he finished with 82 yards on 22 carries.
“I’m feeling it,” Rivera said after the game with a laugh. “I’m beat up a lot. But this win means a lot to us. It gives us motivation for the games in front of us.”
Van Horn led 9-0 after the first thanks to a 27-yard interception return by David Krantz and a safety when several members tackled Patriots quarterback Carter Brown in the end zone after a snap sailed over his head deep in Truman territory.
Loa scored his first touchdown on the last play of the first half when he capped off a 55-yard Patriots drive by scoring from the 2.
Tanner Smith made field goals of 26 and 25 yards in the third quarter to increase Van Horn's lead to 15-7 entering the fourth.
Truman (1-4) tied the game early in the final frame after Loa's 53-yard run set up Alex Kimble's 1-yard TD run.
Loa’s blocked punt came midway through the fourth and set up the winning touchdown.
He fell on it at the Van Horn 2 and scored on the next play to give the Patriots their first lead of the game and season.
Truman looked like it might run out the clock, but a fumble deep in Falcons territory gave them the ball back.
Spurred by many athletic runs by quarterback Shaun Ross, Van Horn (3-2) marched 86 yards and scored on Ross' 9-yard touchdown pass to Sobelli Powell.
“Our offense, we didn’t play we'll in the first half, but we have a dynamic kid at quarterback,” Van Horn coach William Harris said. “So when stuff breaks down he has a chance to make plays.”
Loa then came through with his biggest play of the game.
"It's the first win, and hopefully there's many more," Loa said. "This helps show us that we can win and win some more.”
It also marked Pugh’s first win as head coach of the Patriots.
“That was our main goal was to get coach Pugh his first win here at Truman,” Rivera said. “He deserved it.”
Pugh deflected the attention to his players.
“I’m happy for our kids,” he said. “To win, it’s a fresh start for us. We see what we can be. For these kids to win it means a lot to me because they’ve earned it.”