After just one week of play there were a couple things Van-Far varsity football head coach Kevin Baldwin was very sure about when it came to his team, one of which was quarterback and returning veteran Eric Hombs.
Graduation tends to create questions for every team and those answers generally don't get answered in the first several weeks of the season. But, last Friday night at home in Louisiana's second game as a part of the Eastern Missouri Conference, the Indians Verylyn Johnson welcomed them with open arms. Having mostly lined up on defense and other offensive positions in seasons past, the senior came out at running back like that's where he'd always been and gave the Bulldogs all they could handle and more.
Louisiana wasn't without its charms, though, and this contest went all the way down to the final quarter before the Indians finally pulled away for the 44-34 league victory.
"Johnson is new to the backfield. He's always been a tight end for us or a receiver. And a real good one, but after graduation last year we kind of got caught without many veteran running backs," Baldwin said. "We were looking for some upper classmen that could move to running back and obviously we made the right decision. We've also got some good, young kids coming up, but right now he's our man."
Next up for Van-Far is Wright City and one problem the team experienced in this game it'll want to avoid at home next week is that it got off to a slow start, as the first quarter against Louisiana ended 0-0. The Bulldogs Derek Richards also threw a pass to Devin Cropp for 45 yards early in the second that got called back on a penalty. The Indians then countered two plays later by recovering a fumble. When Johnson ran 60-yards for a score several downs after that, Van-Far was up 6-0 with 6:55 until halftime.
"We know Wright City is one of the tougher teams in the conference. Their one of the bigger schools in the (EMO)," said Baldwin. "They're going to come down here with lots of kids. Ther last couple years we haven't faired real well against them. We're young this year, and even the kids that aren't young aren't very experienced at their positions. What we're hoping to do is play a good, fundamental game and not hurt ourselves. It's one thing to get beat by a good team. We just don't want to beat ourselves."
Van-Far was on point against Louisiana when it came to recovering fumbles because that's also what led to Johnson's second touchdown run of 63 yards at 4:15 of the second to give his team a 12-0 advantage. But, after the Bulldogs made it a 12-6 game, it was an Indians turnover that gave the opposition a chance to take the lead at 13-12 on a pass from Cropp to Jordan Luck with :48.1 left in the half, and those are exactly the type of opportunities they don't want to give the Wildcats.
Another factor that'll work in Van-Far's favor against Wright City is that Johnson is definitely a straight ahead runner whose track background stands out with every step while Hombs defintely has more of a side-to-side style that paid big dividends in the first drive of the second half against the Bulldogs. Even though it was Johnson who scored the four yard touchdown and the two-point conversion, Hombs decsion-making and leadership definitely was the difference in his team going back up 20-13.
"Hombs is the key. He's the key that starts the car and gets us going. We know the best thing about Eric is he's a coach on the field. He's a leader, he keeps the guys focused and he gets us out of bad calls," Baldwin said. "Whenever we need to get out of a call, not that I make a lot of bad calls, but sometimes you can go to the line of scrimmage and see something better. We've given him the green light to do that this year."
Finally, with 1:38 left in the game leading 34-32 Hombs darted up the middle, through the defense and past everybody for the final touchdown of the game. He even connected with Treyson Culwell for the two-point conversion pass to make sure Louisiana's hopes were officially dashed instead of leaving them with a little bit of time and down just eight.
"We knew quite a bit about (Louisiana prior to this game). We've played JV against them for quite a few years now," Baldwin said. "We knew they were going to be hungry coming into this game. We knew they were going to be treating this as a game they could win, so we knew we'd be in for a dogfight. They're a well-coached team this year. Their staff is doing a real good job."