Van Horn football can't overcome first-half hole in loss to UA

Michael Smith
Special to The Examiner

For three quarters the Van Horn football team looked like it was headed for a blowout loss against University Academy. 

But thanks to a couple of big turnovers the Falcons defense forced, they cut a 22-point deficit to eight. However, the hole proved to be too much to overcome in a 30-14 Crossroads Conference road loss Saturday. 

“We just came out flat,” Van Horn coach Roshaad Byrd said. “We were never able to get it going or get any type of juice. Credit to UA, they came out to fight from the beginning. We were packing up leaks the whole game.” 

The Van Horn offense sputtered in the first half and totaled just 31 yards of offense. Quarterback Andrew Murphy tossed two interceptions, one of which set up a University Academy touchdown. Gryphons quarterback Tyreese Wilson threw touchdown passes of 14 and 20 yards to wide receivers Michael Coleman and Cannon Clark, respectively. 

“It was all about tackling,” University Academy head coach Ryan Heffley said. “We saw them break a lot of tackles on film and did a lot of extra tackling this week. If they were going to beat us, they were going to have to throw to beat us because we geared up to stop the run and make them play left-handed.” 

The second TD drive came after a Murphy interception that was intercepted by Clark and returned to the University Academy 31. The Gryphons also converted a fourth-and-8 fake punt when Coleman ran 10 yards for the first down. Wilson also tossed a pair of two-point conversions to Coleman. 

Before the end of the half, Wilson converted a fourth-and-25 from the Van Horn 41 when he connected with a wide-open Coleman for a TD with 32 seconds left to go into halftime up 22-0. 

“They didn’t do anything special or anything we didn’t see on film,” Byrd said of Clark and Coleman. “We had busted coverages and those guys got wide open.” 

Byrd elected to put in De’Marcus Penson at quarterback in the second half. Van Horn moved the ball a little better but still struggled to score – even after Falcons defensive back MJ Faulau recovered a fumble from Clark at the Gryphon 24. Van Horn made it to the 9, but on fourth-and-one, Penson was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on a designed run for a 2-yard loss and a turnover on downs. 

The Falcons got a reprieve, however, as the Van Horn defense forced another fumble from running back Alonzo Jacobs that was recovered by CJ Nelson at the University Academy 1. After a 2-yard loss, Falcons running back David Lewis punched it in from 3 yards and he ran in a two-point conversion to make it 22-8 with 11:55 left. 

Clark muffed the ensuing kickoff and the ball was recovered by Van Horn sophomore Terrell Johnson at the Gryphon 21. On the first play, Penson faked a screen pass to Lewis and threw a pass to the back left corner of the end zone to Demetrius Wilson for a 21-yard TD. The two-point conversion failed but the Falcons had cut the deficit to 22-14 with 11:42 left. 

University Academy, though, answered less than two minutes later. A 39-yard connection from Wilson to a wide-open Clark set the Gryphons up at the Van Horn 2. Wilson then found Clark wide open in the back of the end zone on play action for a 2-yard score. Dom Drummer added a two-point conversion run for the 30-14 final margin. 

The Van Horn offense sputtered for the rest of the game as it totaled 108 yards. 

Meanwhile, the Van Horn defense struggled to contain Clark and Coleman, who totaled 87 and 86 yards receiving, respectively. 

“Our offensive staff does a good job of scheming those guys open,” Heffley said. “Michael and Cannon are two special players and they have made plays all year.”