The Van Horn Falcons had several chances to get their first victory against a winning team.
The Falcons scored the first touchdown in Friday’s football contest against Pembroke Hill, a team they have struggled against in recent years. However, injuries and costly penalties caught up with Van Horn as it fell to 5-4 overall with a 20-6 loss on the road.
The loss dropped the Falcons to the No. 4 seed in Class 4 District 7, and they will play host to No. 5 seed Harrisonville next Friday. The Wildcats knocked out Van Horn in the district semifinals after the Falcons won their first playoff game in program history last season.
Head coach William Harris and his Falcons will be out for revenge.
“It’s a good matchup,” Harris said. “It don’t want to say it’s a rivalry, but that’s two years in a row they are on our (postseason) schedule. It’s almost like a regular season. Hopefully our guys can get revenge on them. We thought we were a couple plays away from winning last year.”
But they may have to do it without starting offensive lineman Aaron Maluia, who injured his shoulder last week against University Academy. In Friday’s game, the Falcons were also without starting running back Devontae Telar, who was out with a foot injury.
“I want to say it didn’t affect us, but not having Aaron up front made me feel a little less comfortable than I normally do,” Van Horn quarterback Sean Mitchell said.
If that wasn’t enough, Mitchell hurt his thumb in the fourth quarter and had to get it taped up. Van Horn will be battling attrition during the playoffs.
“I went in for a tackle and didn’t do what I was coached to do and bumped my first and didn’t wrap up,” Mitchell said. “I caught it wrong and it popped. I can’t use that as an excuse. I got to come back next week strong.”
Added Harris: “It’s football. Injuries happen. That’s why you want to build up that depth so you can have some serviceable people behind the starters. We are not fortunate to be in that situation this year. We had to start two freshmen on our O-line. We had some guys we had to press into service because of numbers issues.”
The Falcons struck first with 42 seconds left in the first period. Mitchell connected with 6-foot-4 receiver Caleb Tanis on a deep crossing route for a 52-yard touchdown pass. A missed extra point made it 6-0.
And that was it for a normally explosive Van Horn offense, that had two touchdowns wiped out in the second half. When Pembroke Hill was up 13-6, Mitchell scored on a 45-yard run on a read option play as he went into the end zone untouched. However, the score was wiped out by a blocking in the back penalty.
Mitchell later tossed an interception that set up the Raiders (7-2) at Pembroke Hill 27. That set up quarterback Innis McLiney’s TD pass to tight end Miles Marshall, making it 20-6. On the play, Marshall was wide open on a broken coverage. The Raiders scored in a similar fashion when McKinney lobbed a high-arcing pass to running back Degnan, who had a good 4 to 5 seconds to wait on the ball before catching it and running it in for a score. He was that open.
“It’s a problem that we’ve been working with our secondary all year,” Harris said. “We’ve had blown coverages, broken coverages and guys not knowing assignments. It’s been an ongoing problem.”
While the Van Horn defense played well for the most part, the Raiders’ big plays hurt them, including a 66-yard rushing TD from McLiney as he found a huge hole as he went into the end zone untouched.
On a drive late in the fourth, Van Horn appeared to score after running back MarQuan Whetstone took it in from 1 yard out. However, that play was wiped out by an illegal motion penalty. Van Horn eventually turned it over on downs after Whetstone couldn’t haul in Mitchell’s shovel pass on fourth down at the 2-yard line.
It was just that kind of game for the Falcons, who seemed to have so many big plays negated by penalties throughout.
“We had a lot of penalties,” Harris said. “I don’t want to focus on the refs, but they made some questionable calls. We had holding calls out on the edge. Our wide receivers block. We take pride in it and we teach our guys to block. It happens.”
Tanis caught three passes for 70 yards and JJ Bears had seven carries for 92 yards for the Falcons.