By David Barber
MINEOLA—How the final season record for the 2013 Van Vandal varsity football team ends remains to be determined but one thing is for sure, they will not have to answer any more questions about when they will break into the win column.
The Vandals broke open a tight game at halftime by exploding for 29 unanswered points in the second half Friday night to swat the Mineola Yellowjackets, 50-14, in the District 15-3A opener for both squads in Mineola.
Coach Jared Moffatt’s Vandals are now 1-5 overall but more importantly, the defending District 15-3A champions are also 1-0 in district play tied with the undefeated Athens Hornets and the surprising Mabank Panthers.
Two of the current district leaders will go head-to-head as the Vandals will host 6-0 Athens in a 7:30 p.m. early district showdown Friday at Mal Fowler Field at Van Memorial Stadium. (see related story in this issue).
Athens eased past the Canton Eagles, 50-26, Friday night in Canton.
“It feels real good to win our first district game,” said Moffatt. “These kids have gone through so much adversity but they have really battled through it.”
Winning not only the first district game but also coming out victorious for the first time overall in 2013 is not only thrilling but a sense of relief as well for the Vandals, according to Moffatt.
“Our kids and our coaches compete hard every week,” pointed out Moffatt. “We do not believe in moral victories at Van. We have played some good halves of football this season but against Mineola, we made big plays throughout the game and that was the difference for us in winning at Mineola.”
Leading 21-14 at halftime in Mineola, the Vandals put together arguably their best second half performance of the season as they outscored the Yellowjackets 29-0 in the final two quarters.
Van’s defense held the Yellowjackets to two first downs and seven total yards of offense in the second half while recovering one fumble and forcing a safety early in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the Vandals finished the contest with 23 first downs and 462 yards of total offense (320 rushing and 142 passing).
The Vandals received the opening kickoff and began the scoring by moving 75 yards in four plays.
Reserve running back Deundre Johnson (six carries, 124 yards, two touchdowns), seeing his most extensive action of the season, ended the initial march with a 54-yard TD run. Josef Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals an early 7-0 advantage with 10:45 remaining in the first quarter.
A 17-yard run by reserve RB Alphonso Thomas set up the TD run by Johnson.
“Getting Alphonso and Deundre more involved in our offense is important for us in our running game,” emphasized Moffatt. “It takes some of the load off of Matt Savis. Deundre has such a strong, competitive spirit. He is a good blocker. All three of our running backs are threats. It gives the opposing defense a different look.”
After a Mineola punt, the Vandals had excellent field position at the Yellowjacket 48 but three plays later, a high shotgun snap from center was recovered by Mineola defensive end Casey Gilbreath at the Yellowjacket 49.
Eleven plays later, Yellowjacket freshman quarterback Jeremiah Crawford raced 16 yards for a TD. Willie Tinajero added the extra point to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:48 remaining in the first quarter.
A pass interference penalty against the Vandals on fourth down and three at the Van 32 kept the Mineola scoring drive alive.
Van threatened to break the deadlock on its next offensive series as they moved from their own 25 to the Mineola 21 in seven plays including a 20-yard pass completion from QB Peter Maddox to wide receiver Luke McGowan, an 11-yard run by RB Matt Savis and a personal foul penalty against the Yellowjackets.
Facing fourth down and four at the Yellowjacket 21 on the first play of the second quarter, Thomas was stopped after a two-yard gain giving Mineola possession at the Yellowjacket 19.
After a Mineola punt, the Vandals moved 50 yards in three plays to regain the lead.
On third down and eight, Maddox connected with McGowan on a perfectly executed screen pass resulting in a 52-yard TD pass play. Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals a 14-7 lead with 8:26 remaining in the second quarter.
Mineola responded by moving 75 yards in 11 plays (10 running) to force another deadlock on the scoreboard.
Self ended the time-consuming march with a 16-yard TD run. Tinajero added the extra point to tie the game at 14-14 with 3:35 to play before halftime.
An 11-yard pass completion from Crawford to WR Blake Whitney and a 10-yard run by RB Chantz Perkins were key plays in what turned out to be the final Yellowjacket scoring drive of the contest.
The Vandals began to show their dominance as they broke the tie for good with a 66-yard scoring drive in seven plays.
Savis (19 carries, 131 yards, two TD’s) ended the drive with a 5-yard TD run. Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals a 21-14 advantage with 1:17 remaining before intermission.
Key plays in the go-ahead scoring possession for the Vandals included a 40-yard run by Savis on fourth down and inches at the Van 43 and a 10-yard run by Johnson.
“There was some risk going for it on fourth down in that situation,” recalled Moffatt. “When I was at Denton Ryan, the head coach there told me that you never want to lose a game by being too conservative. We saw something in our film study on Mineola that we felt like that play would work in that situation. Matt made a great run after taking the direct snap and it really helped in building up momentum for us.”
Mineola’s next offensive series resulted in a turnover as a pass on second down and one at the Yellowjacket 38 from Crawford was intercepted by Vandal cornerback Eric Lemus at the Van 47 allowing the Vandals to run out the first half clock.
After a Mineola punt early in the third quarter, the Vandals began to put the game out of reach by moving 49 yards in eight plays.
The drive ended as Maddox (eight completions, 12 attempts, 142 yards, two TD’s) connected with WR Layton Myers on a 13-yard TD pass play. Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals a 28-14 lead with 7:44 to play in the third quarter.
A 28-yard pass completion from Maddox to Myers set up the TD.
Following another Yellowjacket punt, the Vandals moved 65 yards in nine plays to add to their advantage.
Savis ended the drive with a 1-yard TD run. Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals a comfortable 35-14 lead with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter.
A 28-yard pass completion from Maddox to Myers and a 24-yard run by Savis were key plays in the Vandal scoring march.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mineola lined up in punt formation on fourth down and 19 at the Yellowjacket 23 when the center snap sailed over the punter’s head.
The punter retrieved the ball and threw an incomplete pass from the end zone but was penalized for intentional grounding giving the Vandals a safety and a 37-14 lead with 11:48 to play in the game.
After a 45-yard return of the ensuing free kick by Savis, Thomas raced 35 yards for a TD on the next play. Ruiz added the extra point to give the Vandals a commanding 44-14 advantage with 11:31 to play in the fourth quarter.
Mineola’s next offensive possession resulted in a turnover as reserve QB Whitney fumbled with Tristan Ford of the Vandals recovering the ball at the Van 42.
Three plays later, Johnson raced 51 yards for a TD to give the Vandals a 50-14 lead with 9:05 to play in the game. The extra point attempt was blocked with Myers, the holder, picking up the loose ball and throwing an incomplete pass into the end zone.
An exchange of punts followed before the game came to an end.
“I thought our offensive line played very well against Mineola,” pointed out Moffatt. “Peter Maddox threw the ball well and we had big receptions from Luke McGowan and Layton Myers.”
The Vandal head coach was also pleased with the effort of the Vandal defense last Friday night.
“We are getting better defensively every week,” said Moffatt.
Moffatt also recognized the efforts of linebacker Brice Borgeson, linebacker Hunter Redmond, outside linebacker Colt Hayes, cornerback Xavier Sherman and safety Brock Moore.
Individual defensive statistics against Mineola were released by the Vandal coaches and the numbers were as follows:
Hunter Redmond, 12 unassisted tackles and three tackles for losses; Colt Hayes, 11 unassisted tackles and two tackles for losses; Brice Borgeson, 10 unassisted tackles and three tackles for losses; Brock Moore, 10 unassisted tackles, three tackles for losses and one pass breakup; Deundre Johnson, six unassisted tackles and one assisted tackle; Brett Doring, four unassisted tackles; Jacob Fattig, three unassisted tackles and one assisted tackle; Tristan Ford, three unassisted tackles, three assisted tackles and one fumble recovery; Alphonso Thomas, three assisted tackles and one unassisted tackle; Drew Burroughs, two unassisted tackles and one assisted tackle; Xavier Sherman, two unassisted tackles, one assisted tackle and one tackle for a loss; Hunter Anderson, one unassisted tackle, one assisted tackle and one tackle for a loss; Ben Buchanan, one unassisted tackle and one assisted tackle; Brendan Curtis, one unassisted tackle and one assisted tackle; Cody Jones, one unassisted tackle; Carlos Lemus, one unassisted tackle and one assisted tackle; Eric Lemus, one unassisted tackle, two assisted tackles and one 10-yard interception return; Layton Myers, one unassisted tackle and one assisted tackle; and Lucas Sartain, one unassisted tackle.