LINDALE — In the middle of the postgame celebration, Van quarterback Garrett Smallwood visited family and friends with a sense of closure painted all over his face.
Less than a year ago, the current senior left this very stadium with one of the most heartbreaking losses of his career — perhaps the most heartbreaking; so bad, he felt guilty about it ever since.
But on Friday night, Smallwood put those feelings to rest by helping engineer Van's 27-13 victory against Lindale at Eagle Stadium. Last season Smallwood, an all-state caliber player who passed for more than 3,000 yards as a junior, made a crucial mistake in the final minute of Van's loss to the Eagles —s which cost the Vandals the win and a district title.
"Last year when I left I was heartbroken because I felt like it was all on me," Smallwood said. "This year, getting the win, it feels great. It's like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I've been thinking about this game since last year.
"We got our revenge. That's what this game was all about. I took it personally."
In Van's 50-43 loss to Lindale last season, Smallwood made a mental error to turn the ball over on downs with the Vandals' deep inside the Eagles' red zone. The dual-threat quarterback scrambled and picked up enough yards for the first down, but spotted a receiver open in the end zone and released the football well beyond the line of scrimmage.
Ball game, indeed.
In the first quarter of the rematch, Smallwood drove the Vandals towards the same end zone on the way to one of his best passing performances of the season. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, helping lead a Van team that also featured a strong running presence and a shutdown defense that limited the Eagles to 6 yards rushing.
"Anytime Van can beat Lindale it feels good," Vandals coach Jared Moffatt said. "I can't say enough about (Lindale coach Mike) Meador and his staff. Us playing them, it's always going to be tough a tough win."
Van scored 14 points in the second quarter to take a 21-13 lead into halftime, capping a wild opening 24 minutes that resembled last season's game. Smallwood passed for two touchdowns en route to finishing the half 6 of 8 for 72 yards, connecting with Hunter Hopkins for a 17-yard TD and Carson Rucker for an 18-yard score.
Rucker caught four passes for 99 yards on the night.
Van running back Matt Savis produced another big night on the ground, finishing with 15 carries for 83 yards. Fellow running back Syd Moore, a dominant defensive lineman who gets the ball in short-yardage situations, had nine carries for 43 yards and two scores (an interception by Aphonso Thomas set up the first).
Moore also anchored the Van defense, which held Lindale in check throughout the night after the Eagles opened the game in impressive fashion, thanks to Demarcus Lynch setting the Eagles up at Van's 23-yard line with a 60-yard kickoff return. Demarcus Lynch put the home team ahead 7-0 with 10:53 remaining in the in first.
It took Van about seven minutes to strike back and tie the game at 7-7, when Moore barreled into the end zone from 2 yards away. Early in the second quarter the Vandals took their first lead of the night, which came on behalf of Smallwood's TD pass to Hopkins that capped a quick drive featuring three plays of 10 or more yards.
But the Eagles weren't about to back down in the heated matchup, evidenced by Johnson completing passes of 21 and 31 yards in their first drive of the second. That set up 10-yard touchdown by Delanis Garrett with 5:59 left before the break.
The PAT failed to leave the score 14-13 in favor of Van, which added its final touchdown to make it an eight-point game with 2:12 to go.
Van 27, Lindale 13
At Eagle Stadium, Lindale
Van 7 14 6 0 27
Lindale 7 6 0 0 13
LIN — Demarcus Lynch 4 run (Luc Swimberghe kick), 10:53
VAN — Syd Moore 2 run (Colin Hester), 4:54
VAN — Hunter Hopkins 17 pass from Garrett Smallwood (Hester kick), 8:51
LIN — Delanis Garrett 10 run (kick failed), 5:59
VAN — Carson Rucker 18 pass from Smallwood (Hester kick), 2:12
VAN — Moore 3 run (kick failed), 6:00
First Downs 20 10
Rushes-Yards 45-230 14-6
Passing Yards 177 204
Comp.-Att.Int. 10-14-0 21-34-1
Punts-Avg. 0-0 3-29.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 10-85 5-40
RUSHING — Van, Matt Savis 15-83, Hunter Hopkins 6-52, Syd Moore 9-43, Garrett Smallwood 14-40, Aphonso Thomas 1-12. Lindale, Josiah Johnson 3-9, Delanis Garrett 7-7, Demarcus Lynch 1-4, Cody Slice 1-(-4), Aaron Jackson 2-(-10) .
PASSING — Van, Smallwood 10-14-0--177. Lindale, Slice 14-22-1--128, Johnson 7-12-0--76.
RECEIVING — Van, Carson Rucker 4-99, Andrew Platter 2-35, Savis 2-13, Hopkins 1-17, Austin Lockwood 1-13, Lindale, Dakota Meurer 8-85, Johnson 4-49, Trenton SirLouis 4-41, Kolton Pierce 2-10, Lynch 1-15, T.J. Griffin 1-4.