Despite having a winning record coming into Saturday’s contest against University Academy, Van Horn head football coach William Harris didn’t feel his team was playing particularly well recently.

The Falcons were soundly beaten in a 61-39 shootout loss to Winnetonka in Week 6 and were dominated in a 35-0 loss to Summit Christian Academy a week ago.

Early on, the Gryphons punched the Falcons in the mouth, and a third straight loss seemed like a real possibility for Van Horn. However, the Falcons bounced back and outscored University Academy 35-8 in the second half en route to a 55-24 Crossroads Conference road victory.

“We went into the locker room and got chewed out a little bit (at halftime),” Van Horn quarterback/safety Sean Mitchell said. “We weren’t the team we normally are in the first half. It showed. They were able to get the lead. We’re better than that. We came out in the second half hungry.”

Van Horn seized control early. On the first possession, running back Devontae Telar got the edge on the left side and scored on a 39-yard run to put the Falcons ahead 7-0.

The Gryphons answered on their next two possessions to take a 16-7 lead. The first – aided by a pair of Van Horn penalties for first downs – ended when quarterback Tyrese Wilson threw a 54-yard TD pass on a busted coverage. Wilson capped the second drive with a 78-yard touchdown pass and a second two-point conversion for the nine-point lead.

“We weren’t playing our coverages right,” Mitchell said. “It was just the little things.”

After the Van Horn possession stalled, Mitchell provided the spark on defense. He forced Wilson to fumble while scrambling, recovered the loose ball and returned it to the Gryphon 3. Telar capitalized with a 3-yard touchdown run to slice the deficit to 16-13 with 7:13 left in the second period.

Telar then scored again on a 22-yard run to put the Falcons ahead 20-16 at halftime.

Falcons cornerback Connor Curtis picked off a Wilson pass, which eventually led to a Telar 1-yard score, making it 27-16 at the 5:22 mark in the third and University Academy never got any closer.

Telar, who punched it in again from 1 yard out later in the third quarter, finished with 181 yards on 31 carries and five touchdowns.

“It felt great, but I could always do better,” Telar said of his big day.

Mitchell also had a great day on the ground as he gained 107 yards on 13 carries.

“It wasn’t a planned thing, we just read the defense,” Van Horn head coach William Harris said of Mitchell running the ball more. “If they are giving it to us, we’ll take it. Sean was reading it well. He’s a smart kid.”

Drevion Downton sealed the win, catching a 41-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell, returning an interception 45 yards for a score and scoring on a 7-yard jet sweep.

While it was a much-needed win for Van Horn, they suffered a big loss when Aaron Maluia went down with a shoulder injury early in the third period. Trainers tended to the injured lineman who had a hard time moving. He was on the ground for more than 30 minutes before he was hauled off on a stretcher and into an ambulance.

Harris said it could be a separated shoulder or possibly a collarbone injury. Harris said it’s a huge blow for the Falcons. Maluia was their leader on the offensive line and could possibly be out for the last regular season game and the district playoffs.

Freshmen Mason Igou and Ryan Ashe will likely fill in for Maluia next week.

“He’s our best O-lineman, so that impacts us,” Harris said. “We’ve got some younger guys with some size that can step in. We’re just going to have to get them ready.”

Added Mitchell: “When Aaron got injured, that kind of slowed things down. It got us fired up, though. We had something to play for. Aaron is family.”