Van Horn had a good chance to get one of its biggest wins in a long time.
The Falcons were down 27-20 to Center – a team that has made the Class 3 state quarterfinals two out of the last three years – and had the ball on the Yellowjacket’ 31-yard line on fourth-and-4. They tried to draw the Center defense offsides, but the Falcons’ center snapped the ball too soon. On a bizarre play, very few Falcons moved after the snap.
That allowed Center’s Khalil Brown to make the game-winning sack as the Yellowjackets hung on for the 27-20 victory Saturday at Independence All-School Stadium.
“Coach (William Harris) has really built Van Horn into a good team,” Center coach Bryan DeLong said. “They gave us all we can handle. They did some things schematically that we haven’t seen. Their quarterback (Sean Mitchell) is a special player. He can run and he can throw. He creates problems.
A pair of turnovers and the performance of Yellowjacket running back Cris Ferrer, who had an eye-popping 369 yards rushing with four touchdowns. Ferrer thrived on runs to the outside and a style of offense that always had a wide receiver in motion, who was available for a handoff.
“I can’t count that high – I am just a P.E. teacher,” DeLong joked when he was notified how many yards Ferrer had. “He breaks tackles and he’s a special athlete. Cris Ferrer had perfect attendance for weights and he received the most votes to be a captain.”
Ferrer sparked Center early. Quarterback Jesse Stills faked a handoff and gave it to Ferrer, who found a huge hole up the middle and raced 61 yards into the end zone to give Center a 7-0 lead with 9:08 left in the first quarter.
Van Horn responded on the next drive when running back Devontae Telar, who finished with 149 yards on 29 carries, broke off a 52-yard run up the middle before he was tackled at the Center 1-yard line. He punched it in from there and a missed extra point attempt made it 7-6 with 8:14 left in the first.
On Van Horn’s next possession, Center intercepted Mitchell’s first pass attempt of the game and returned it to the Falcons’ 45-yard line. After a personal foul penalty on the Yellowjackets move the ball back to Center’s 40, it didn’t take long for Ferrer to convert the turnover. Two plays later, he found a huge hole on the right side of the line and scampered 54 yards down the sideline to make it 14-6.
Van Horn’s second turnover, a fumble by running back JJ Beard, set up Center at its own 39. That led to Ferrer’s third TD run, a 61-yard romp, to make it 20-7 with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
“One coach said before the season, if we really put it together, the only team that can beat us is us,” Harris said. “Until we get out of our own way and stop beating ourselves, things like this are going to happen.”
After the first period ended, there was a 2 1/2-hour lightning delay before play resumed. Van Horn marched the ball to the Center 14 but it failed to punch it in after an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4.
Center had a chance to take command in the second quarter, but Van Horn stopped Stills short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal play from the 4 with 3:27 left to keep it 20-7.
Van Horn made an immediate impact on offense in the second half. A 59-yard run from Mitchell set up a 2-yard scoring run from Telar. However, the score was called back by a chop block penalty. The Falcons weren’t able to recover from the costly penalty as the drive stalled at the Center 14.
However, with 2 seconds left in the third quarter, Mitchell connected with wide receiver Drevion Downton over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-13.
Van Horn stopped a Center drive on the 28-yard line after a holding penalty helped derail it. The Falcons (3-1) took advantage when Mitchell tossed a 9-yard TD to wide receiver Caleb Tanis on fourth-and-8 to tie it at 20-20 with 4:54 remaining.
“I trusted my O-line a little more at the end and gave myself enough time to make good throws,” Mitchell said.
But as he had been doing all game, Ferrer dominated. He took an outside pitch and ran free along the left sideline for a 78-yard score that proved to be the game-winner.
The Falcons made it to the Center 31, but the botched play on fourth down thwarted the final drive.
“They have so much speed so they can get the ball from sideline to sideline,” Harris said of Center. “They have a pretty good running back that can get you running down hill, too. (Ferrer) is a tough runner. He can go.
“I knew before the season started that our offense could be explosive. We just have to get better at execution. We were better in the second half. We did some good things. We just didn’t do enough of them.”
Mitchell completed 10 of 22 passes 116 yards, two scores and one interception for Van Horn.