Van Wins District 15-3A Title with 35-21 Win vs. Rival Canton
VAN -- Behind the legs of Garrett Smallwood and Matt Savis and a dominant fourth-quarter defense, the Van Vandals defeated the Canton Eagles 35-21 to clinch the District 15-3A title at Van Memorial Stadium on Friday.
Van (9-1, 5-0) piled up 365 rushing yards, while the Van defense held the high-scoring Canton offense to seven second-half points. Smallwood led the rushing attack with 193 yards on 24 carries, while Savis tallied 107 yards on 16 rushes.
Van plays Henderson (6-4) -- District 16-3A's third-place team -- at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tyler's TMF Rose Stadium. Canton matches up with the District 16-3A champion Gilmer Buckeyes at TMF Rose Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Van held Canton to 46 fourth-quarter yards to protect its lead.
"I'm just so proud of our kids," said van coach Jared Moffatt. "We talked about it being a fourth-quarter game, and I'm just so proud of how we played down the stretch, especially the defense."
Up 28-21, Van's special teams thwarted a Canton fake punt early in the fourth, giving the Vandals the ball at midfield. Six plays later, senior Hunter Hopkins scored on a seven-yard touchdown run, essentially putting Canton away.
Hopkins scored three times on runs of 11, 7, and 2 yards to compliment Smallwood and Savis' rushing performance.
Canton (8-2, 4-1) took the lead late in the second quarter when QB Chandler Eiland hit older brother Connor Eiland for a 45-yard touchdown pass at the 1:36 mark. Chandler Eiland was leveled by Van defensive tackle Syd Moore, barely getting the pass off. Then the ball was tipped by Van defensive back Layton Myers and fell into Connor Eiland's hands, who outran the Van secondary for the long score and a 14-13 lead. Connor Eiland caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Van answered when it drove 76 yards for a Smallwood two-yard touchdown pass to Carson Rucker with one second remaining until intermission. A two-point conversion from Smallwood to Savis gave Van a 21-14 advantage and all the momentum heading into halftime. Smallwood was 11 of 22 passing for 165 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Luke McGowan, sophomore wide receiver, led Van with 50 yards on five grabs.
"Any time you score right before the end of the half, it gives you great momentum going in. Then the wind picked up in the second half, we threw a pick, and had a 16-yard punt," Moffatt said. "I just can't say enough about our defensive staff and the kids on that side of the ball rising up and making plays."
After trading turnovers and the aforementioned 16-yard third-quarter punt, Canton's Chandler Eiland took a QB draw up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown, tying the game 21-21 at the 3:03 mark. He finished 12-for-21 for 183 yards, one touchdown, and two picks and ran for 55 yards and a touchdown.
"He is as tough as they come," said Canton coach Robert Ivey. "He may be a sophomore, but he sure doesn't play like one."
Van took the lead for good when Hopkins scored from 11 yards with 11 seconds left in third to cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive. Van's fourth-quarter defense allowed the Vandals to protect the lead.
"I thought we played really hard. I just think we had some opportunities that we didn't take advantage of," Ivey said. "We got some turnovers, made some stops, just didn't take advantage when we needed to. (Van) is a veteran playoff team, but any given night anything can happen. That's why you tee it up and play."
Canton's Reece Sumner ran for 60 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. Moore also had a first-quarter rushing touchdown.