Van Horn was well aware its Week 1 matchup on the road against East wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Despite the Bears coming off a two-win campaign in 2018, head coach Greg Smith’s squad was prepared to protect their two-year-old home turf.
The Falcons, 7-4 one year ago, got the dogfight they expected and more in an exhilarating 28-27 overtime victory to open the season.
Led by quarterback Sean Mitchell, Van Horn escaped by the narrowest margin possible. Mitchell’s two-point conversion run in overtime sealed the deal and set off a bench-clearing celebratory dogpile near midfield.
“Coach told us best, you can’t come into someone’s house and expect them to lay over and give us the game,” Mitchell, a junior, said. “I feel like we have to work on that next week and get in the film room.”
Van Horn head coach William Harris spent most of the evening imploring his troops to stay the course. The Falcons were seemingly in control, taking leads of 7-0, 13-6 and 20-12 before the Bears rallied to tie the game at 20-all late in the third quarter.
East eventually went ahead 27-20 in overtime thanks in part to junior wide receiver and defensive back Chris Thornton. Thornton’s 90-yard interception return for a touchdown with less than 2 minutes remaining in the third helped tie the score.
The 5-foot-8 dynamo scored again in overtime on a 4-yard pass from senior quarterback Cristian Owens. The tally gave East its first lead of the game. The Falcons got the ball on the 25-yard line after a successful extra point kick to set up Mitchell’s heroics.
“It’s always good to win,” Harris said. “Our expectations were high. I told the guys at the end, we didn’t meet our expectations. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s always good to get a W.”
Van Horn (1-0) opened the scoring with a first-quarter touchdown pass from Mitchell to senior wide receiver Caleb Tanis on a fourth-and-19 play.
The Bears answered on the next drive, marching down the field until Tre Bloodsoe powered through on a 1-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter.
Mitchell connected with senior wide receiver Drevion Downton for Mitchell’s second TD pass of the night. The 26-yard catch and run gave Van Horn a 13-6 lead 3:14 before the break.
The Bears flubbed the kickoff and Van Horn took over at 25. The Falcons went for the early knockout blow, but Thornton fought off Downton for the first of his two interceptions.
Thornton also had two touchdowns and a fumble recovery against the Falcons.
“He is one hell of a player,” Smith, the Bears longtime head coach said. “If people don’t know about him, they will.”
A 42-yard scoring strike from Owens to senior wide receiver Derion Woods wh less than a minute remaining in the first half was a much-needed boost for East.
At times, the Bears struggled to move the ball. A missed extra point kick kept Van Horn ahead 13-12.
A touchdown run by Van Horn senior running back JJ Beard helped increase Van Horn’s lead to 20-12 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
After Downton intercepted a pass on the Bears' next possession, Van Horn took over at midfield.
And just when it seemed the Falcons were in control and about to tally another score, Thornton had other plans with his twisting, turning interception return for a score that cut the deficit to two points.
A successful two-point conversion pass tied the score at 20-all.
“You’ve got to bring your A-game to beat us,” Smith said. “We’ve proven that now.”
Beard’s fourth-down scoring run from 14 yards out in overtime put the ball in Mitchell’s hands, and he delivered.
“Kudos to my O-line and those guys that were in there that last play and came out and blocked for me,” Mitchell said.