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Shorthanded Falcons rally but fall to Gryphons

By Michael Smith
The Examiner

With quarterback Sean Mitchell out due to undisclosed reasons and running back Lamonte Belshe not playing because of a shoulder injury, Van Horn had to completely revamp its offense.

That’s why the Falcons used the Wildcat formation for the majority of Friday’s Crossroads Conference contest against University Academy. They rotated wide receivers Demarcus Penson and Arlandes Mitchell between taking snaps in the shotgun and pistol formation.

It was a strategy that nearly netted Van Horn a win, but a late touchdown with 3:47 left and defensive stand allowed the Gryphons to squeak by with a 42-41 win at William Chrisman High School’s Norman James Field.

“The offense was amazing tonight,” Gryphons coach Ryan Heffley said. “We ran the ball well and sprinkled in the pass.

“I am really proud of my team. This was our best win of the season and our best win in awhile.”

The Gryphons (3-5) went into halftime up 36-35, but fell behind for the first time when Van Horn sophomore wide receiver Demetrius Wilson scored on a 14-yard run on a jet sweep on third-and-13 to put the Falcons ahead.  The 2-point conversion attempt failed and Van Horn led 41-36 with 10:37 left.

In the second half, the Van Horn defense got two turnovers on downs and forced University Academy to punt it once after the Gryphons scored on all but one possession in the first half. However, the Falcons (4-4) couldn’t stop them on their fourth drive of the second half.

University Academy converted a fourth-and-1 and ended with a 25-yard TD pass from quarterback Tyrese Wilson, who evaded two tacklers in the backfield, rolled to his left and hit running back De’Ante Hawley in the left corner of the end zone. A failed conversion kept it a one-point game.

“That young man is not the best thrower, but I will take him on my team over anyone else because he’s tough, he fights and he’s physical,” Heffley said of Wilson, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 206 yards and three scores. “He made some plays when he needed to.”

Van Horn marched the ball to the University Academy 16-yard line, but Penson was sacked on a rare passing play call on third down, making it fourth-and-18. His final pass fell incomplete, giving the Gryphons the win.

“We knew they didn’t have time to march down the field, so we just had to keep them from breaking a big one,” Heffley said. “We made a play or two when they got (inside the red zone).”

Things looked bleak for the Falcons early on when University Academy went up 24-7 late in the first after Jamir Johnson’s 24-yard run, an 80-yard kick return from Cameron Clark, a 13-yard pass from Tyrese Wilson to Michael Coleman and three two point conversions.

At that point, the Falcons’ only points came from a 75-yard TD on a kick return from Arlandes Mitchell. He then put the offense on his back scoring on runs of 51, 17, 9 and 10 yards to keep his team in it. His last score came 22 seconds left in the second half.

“We did pretty good without a quarterback,” Arlandes Mitchell said. “We should have won that game, though. I felt like I did pretty good. That was the best game I had since our third game.”

Mitchell had a career day, carrying the ball 35 times for 301 yards and four scores.

“He was at camp my first year here and he came in as a running back,” Van Horn coach William Harris said. “He had the experience. I wasn’t surprised he did what he did. It’s pretty impressive.”

However, a 53-yard jaunt from Hawley and a 59-yard bomb from Wilson to Clark allowed the Gryphons to maintain a lead throughout the first 24 minutes.

“As a defensive coach, it’s about discipline and assignments,” Harris said. “We weren’t very disciplined or physical in the first half. It’s something we have to work on and get better at.” We just don’t want to put our offense in a situation where they have to score 35 points every game.”