Van Horn football coach Jeff Tolbert issued a challenge to the Falcons after Thursday night’s 21-14 season-ending loss to Excelsior Springs at Independence All-School Stadium: to conduct themselves as champions long after the Class 4 District 8 defeat.

Tolbert said he would know today at school whether or not his players had taken his challenge to heart.

“There’ll be things that they’ll have to do – like show up for class, like be good citizens on and off the field,” he said. “If what we’ve taught them has taken effect, then it will show in everything that they do.”

Tolbert has taught the Falcons how to be good people outside of football, said Falcons tight end Kylan Alexander, who had six receptions for 108 yards Thursday. To Alexander, being a champion means striving for personal goals off the field and trying “to be the best person you can be,” he said.

Alexander’s 46-yard TD reception from Anthony Winningham and Michael Payne’s extra-point kick gave Van Horn a 7-0 lead with 9:31 left in the second quarter. He said that a downfield block by wide receiver Nathan Ingold was key to his run for the end zone after catching a short out-route pass.

“I just saw end zone (after the block and) tried to run as fast as I could,” he recalled.

The Tigers answered with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by Austin Creason’s 1-yard TD run and point after with 4:09 remaining. Creason’s 33-yard TD pass to Tristan Wilton made it 14-7 Excelsior Springs with 1:18 left in the half.

Winningham’s 34-yard TD pass to Marquis Bever knotted it 14-14 at halftime for the Falcons.

Nick Masoner’s 53-yard TD run and Creason’s point after with 1:14 left in the third quarter gave the Tigers the final points they needed to advance to face St. Joseph Lafayette next Wednesday at Lafayette. The Fighting Irish defeated Savannah 27-25 Thursday.

Excelsior Springs coach Josh Buford credited the Tigers (5-5) for fighting through mistakes Thursday night to advance. But Buford also said he wasn’t pleased with his team’s play.

“I think Van Horn was better than we thought they were – and I think they’re a lot more physical than we thought they were,” he said. “They’ve got some very, very talented kids, and they’ve had a great year – and we definitely weren’t overlooking them, by any means.”

Tolbert, however, called Van Horn’s season a “good season, not a great season.”

“Obviously, we’re disappointed. I was disappointed that we made so many mistakes offensively today,” said Tolbert, whose club committed six turnovers. “We committed some fouls at very inopportune moments in the game.”

But in time, Tolbert expects to remember the players he coached rather than the mistakes that helped end the Falcons’ season at 7-3.

“I think after a while, I’ll have the chance to reflect a little bit,” he said. “And I think I’ll discover that this was a pretty special team.”