Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
GAINESVILLE — Gainesville coach Keith Hall knew something was fishy.
Vernon kicker Miguel Gonzalez’s potential game-tying extra point with 57 seconds left in the game didn’t leave his foot straight.
When the wind-aided kick sailed wide right, Hall’s instinct came true and it was time to celebrate, as the Leopards would go on to win 14-13 in a non-district victory over Vernon at Leopards Stadium for homecoming Friday.
“When (the PAT) went up, I couldn’t tell. Our angle is so bad from the sidelines,” Halls said. “It’s looked wide but it was so high you couldn’t tell. I heard one of our coaches say, ‘It’s no good,’ and sure enough it wasn’t.”
The botched PAT was a near miss for the Leopards (6-0), who used a bend-not-break defense to trouble the Vernon offense the entire game.
Vernon (5-1) scored what looked to be the game-tying touchdown with just less than a minute remaining when Lions quarterback Brandon Urquizo found Danny Valverde open on the sidelines for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
Gonzalez’s extra point would sail wide right, giving the Leopards the win.
Leopard quarterback Denzel Johnson led Gainesville with 111 yards on nine carries. He had an 80-yard touchdown with 9:05 left in the first half to knot the game up at 7-7 at the time.
“It was a good win for us,” Johnson said. “Vernon is a very good team. We came out and fought hard tonight. It feels good to be 6-0.”
All of Gainesville’s scoring came during the second quarter – one of two quarters when the Leopards had a steady 30 mph wind to their backs.
Senior running back Johnathan Mendez found pay dirt with 3:29 left in the second quarter on a 56-yard touchdown run. Mendez found a giant hole in the left side of the Gainesville offensive line and scored without ever being touched.
Mendez’s touchdown came just two plays after the Leopards stopped Vernon on fourth a fourth down on Gainesville 45. Vernon tried a fake punt-pass, but Urquizo’s pass was knocked down by the wind before it could reach his intended receiver.
Gainesville forced four turnover on downs on the night – all of which came in Leopard territory. Gainesville also came up with three sacks on the night, two of which coming from Demarius Farr. The other sack came on a double team of De’Quan Wilford and Dillon Schroeder.
“It seemed like they had the ball on our end of the field all night,” Hall said. “We only had 15 plays the first half. Our defense did a good job. I’m real proud of the kids.”
Johnson’s touchdown came only three plays after the defense stuffed Vernon in the Gainesville redzone for a turnover on downs. Johnson dropped back on a first-and-10, saw an opening in the Lions defense and wasted no time flying down field for the touchdown.
“It was a fake to the running back – Adam (Berryman),” Johnson said. “When we did that, all the linebackers went to the right and all I had to do is make one dude miss and it was off to the races.”
Vernon’s Orlando Haymon ran for a team-high 98 yards on 22 carries. The Leopards outgained Vernon on the ground 238-148 – the Lions topped the Leopards in passing 156-6, though.
Vernon began the scoring with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Urquizo to Ben Owen with 2:48 to play in the first quarter.
Danny Nipp rushed for 41 yards on six carries for the Leopards. Adam Berryman had 25 yards on nine carries.
The final tally meant a victory for Hall in the first time playing against his former school. The Leopard coach was at the helm of the Lions from 2003-2009.
“Vernon is an awful good football team,” Hall said. “They did a good job of keeping the ball out of our hands. … I didn’t think we really gelled offensively. That was a tough football game tonight. The big thing – like I told the kids – I’m happy to be 6-0.”
Gainesville 14, Vernon 13
Vernon 7 0 0 6 – 13
Gainesville 0 14 0 0 – 14
VHS – Ben Owen 23 pass from Brandon Urquizo (Miguel Gonzalez kick), 2:48
GHS – Denzel Johnson 80 run (Hector Sagrero kick), 9:05
GHS – Johnathan Mendez 56 run (Sagrero kick), 3:29
VHS – Danny Valverde 26 pass from Urquizo (kick failed), :57
First downs 17 9
Total yards 304 244
Rushing 49-148 27-238
Passing 156 6
C-A-I 9-13-0 3-6-1
Punt-Avg 0-0 3-29
Fum-L 2-0 2-1
Pen-yards 4-20 2-30
Rushing – Vernon, Orlando Haymon 22-98; Danny Valverde 10-29; Brandon Urquizo 13-19; Robert Thomas 3-2; Zack Perez 1-0. Gainesville, Denzel Johnson 9-111; Johnathan Mendez 2-60; Danny Nipp 7-41; Adam Berryman 9-25.
Passing – Vernon, Urquizo 9-13-0-156. Gainesville, Johnson 3-6-1-6
Receiving – Vernon,Haymon 4-53; Valverde 2-51; Ben Owen 1-23; Jacobi White 2-29. Gainesville, David Moore 1-7; Nipp 1-0; Demetrius Franklin 1-(minus-1)