PITTSBURG – Through the first three weeks of the football season, the Van Vandals’ offense had average more than 500 yards per game.

Van needed its defense and special teams to rise to the occasion Friday night with the offense struggling to find its footing.

The Vandals benefitted from a bad snap on a Pittsburg punt attempt to set up the go-ahead touchdown, and survived with a 21-20 win when Pittsburg’s potential game-tying extra point was wide of the uprights with 2:23 remaining in the fourth.

“For us it was real sloppy,” said Van coach Jared Moffatt. “It felt like we had seven turnovers, we didn’t complete the ball well, we dropped some balls. Thankfully our defense showed up.

"One of (Pittsburg’s scores) was a fumble return for a touchdown so the defense held a really talented group of offensive kids to two scores. We stopped them when we had to, so beyond fortunate is how I feel coming away with a victory tonight.”

Senior AJ Zarate, who moved to Van from Taylor during the offseason, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run with 9:27 to go one play after Van tackled Pittsburg’s punter for a 33-yard loss.

Zarate, who also led Van (3-1) in tackles from his linebacker position on defense, also forced a fumble, one of three Pittsburg (2-2) turnovers on the night.

“You can’t say enough about AJ Zarate,” Moffatt said. “I told him after we shook hands, ‘hey, man … have I told you lately how glad I am you moved here. He said,’ thanks for taking me.’ I said ‘whatever, man.’ I don’t know how many tackles he had, he caused a fumble. And we didn’t block a soul down there on his last touchdown run, he just willed his way in.”

Van almost put the game away midway through the fourth quarter after a diving 16-yard catch by Ethan Robinson on fourth-and-17.

Pittsburg’s offense, which was bottled up for the most of the night, then drove 97 yards in less than three minutes. Jaylon Jimmerson scored on a 12-yard touchdown run, but the extra point was no good.

Van recovered on the onside kick, picked up one first down on offense, and ran out the remainder of the clock.

“They’re a dang good football team, they’ve got talent all over the field," Moffatt said of Pittsburg. “They’ve got a bunch of kids playing almost every snap, and they just battled like crazy.”

Van was limited to 238 yards on the night. Liam Nielson completed 12 of 22 passes for 109 yards, and added a rushing touchdown, but lost two fumbles on the night.

The Vandals managed just 10 first downs for the game.

“You’re gonna have games like this,” Moffatt said. “It’s a three-phase game. Sometimes the offense is gonna struggle and the defense has to step up. Tonight we scored 21 so we needed to hold them to 20.”

Moffatt was particularly impressed with Pittsburg’s defensive effort.

“We’re gonna play some talented teams coming up in our district, everybody knows that,” he said. “And I don’t know if any secondary we play is gonna be any more talented than those guys. So they had a lot to do with our troubles.”

Pittsburg was led offensively by Jimmerson, who passed for 155 yards, and added 40 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. He also came away with an interception on defense.

The Pirates struck first when cornerback Keithlen Griffin picked up a Nielson fumble and returned It 27 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Van answered with 4:25 remaining until halftime on a 17-yard touchdown run from Elijah Rankine.

Pittsburg re-took the lead in the third quarter after Jimmerson intercepted Jayton Moffatt at midfield, and scored on a 2-yard run to end the ensuing drive.

Van followed with its best drive of the night, a 68-yarder that ended with Nielson’s 10-yard touchdown run, which tied the game at 14-14 with 3:25 to play in the third.

“I think they executed real well because we were able to keep them off the scoreboard,” Coach Moffatt said of his defense. “The game plan was trying to keep them in front of us. They’re a big-play offense, and they’ve got four or five guys that can score from anywhere, so their speed scared us. We tried to play off a little bit, keep everything in front of us, and I thought we did.”

Both teams return to action next Friday night. Van plays host to Brownsboro, while Pittsburg travels to Kilgore.

Van 21, Pittsburg 20

At Pirate Stadium, Pittsburg

Van               0      7      7      7    –    21
Pittsburg       7      0      7      6    –    20

First Quarter
PIT—Keithlen Griffin 27 fumble return (Giovanny Rojas kick), 5:24.
Second Quarter
VAN—Elijah Rankine 17 run (Calen McKinney kick), 4:25.
Third Quarter
PIT—Jaylon Jimmerson 2 run (Rojas kick), 7:40.
VAN—Liam Nielson 10 run (McKinney kick), 3:25.
Fourth Quarter
VAN—AJ Zarate 3 run (McKinney kick), 9:27.
PIT—Jimmerson 12 run (kick failed), 2:23.

                                   VAN                     PIT
First Downs                     10                      15
Total Yards                     238                    269
Rushes-Yards             21-89               40-111
Passing Yards                149                    158
Comp.-Att.-Int.         16-30-1             17-26-1
Punts-Avg.                 3-32.0               4-33.8
Fumbles-Lost                  2-2                    2-1
Penalties-Yards               6-35                 7-47

RUSHING—Van, Elijah Rankine, 14-84, AJ Zarate 2-8, Jayton Moffatt 1-0, Liam Nielson 4-(-3). Pittsburg, Desmond Allen 11-63, Jaylon Jimmerson 13-40, Antwon Robertson 12-40, Dominique Allen 3-1, Team 1-(-33).
PASSING—Van, Nielson 12-22-0—109, Javonta Thomas 1-1-0—30, Moffatt 3-7-1—10. Pittsburg, Jimmerson 16-24-1—155, Ty Jordan 1-2-0—3.
RECEIVING—Van, Ethan Robinson 7-55, Bray Doring 3-28, Thomas 3-23, Hoss Brewer 2-13, Rankine 1-30. Pittsburg, Keontae Burns 5-32, Keithlen Griffin 4-66, Promous Morrison 4-30, Jordan 3-24, Robertson 1-6.

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