By RUSTY EBERT
---- — KEOSAUQUA - At Friday night's homecoming, Van Buren recognized a team that made its mark on the football tradition at the school, which dates back to 1898.
The 2013 squad is contributing its chapter to the story.
Van Buren trounced New London, 40-6, uncorking several big plays to make a statement in District 5 of Class 1A. Van Buren took advantage of five New London turnovers, including four interceptions.
The win gave the Warriors a 2-1 record in the district and 3-2 overall. Van Buren is in a three-way tie for second place.
Coach Mike Hurley said it was a good win for the Warriors, which now has several road games ahead.
"We came out flat, but once we started passing, that opened up the running game and we were eventually able to do it at will. We have some big senior linemen and a good group of talented juniors. We like to ground and pound it," Hurley said.
Hurley said the team was moved by the presence of several members of the 1969 football team, the last undefeated team at Van Buren, which was recognized during halftime. Before the game, the 1969 team spoke to the 2013 squad.
"They really motivated the kids and the team responded well," Hurley said.
Last week, Van Buren beat WACO for the first time since the 1969 team beat them, and Friday's win was the first homecoming victory since 2004.
Van Buren spotted New London an early touchdown, with 4:06 left in the first quarter. The Warrior special teams made a mistake on a punt, and New London took advantage, returning it from the 30 to the three-yard line. Van Buren punted, but no one touched the ball, which was still live. A New London player saw his opportunity and then scooped it up and scampered 27 yards. The Tigers scored soon after, but that was their only foray into paydirt.
"I think with homecoming, we weren't that focused in the first quarter," said quarterback Garrett Saunders. "That touchdown woke everybody up."
Brayden Starnes and Wyatt Cole intercepted New London pass attempts in the second quarter, which helped propel Van Buren to three touchdowns in the second 12 minutes of action.
The biggest play came with 11:05 remaining in the half when Saunders connected with Casey Jones on a 70-yard slant-in pass. That score tied things at six.
Sheldon DeWitt scored on a four-yard run with 3:30 on the clock and Saunders hit Brandon Plecker on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 remaining. The last two 2-point conversions were good and Van Buren had a commanding 22-6 lead at halftime. The only scoring in the third quarter was a 15-yard run by Vaughn Helling, capping a 93-yard drive. Helling had a 52-yard run on the drive.
Van Buren scored two touchdowns in the final 68 seconds of the game. Clemens had a one-yard run and then in the final seconds, Plecker returned a 90 yard interception for six points. On that score, Plecker showed his speed, outracing the entire New London (1-4, 0-3) team, taking only 10 seconds to run the distance.
Saunders helped his cause with an interception and fumble recovery.
Helling led Van Buren with 136 yards on 12 carries. Clemens had 83 yards on 16 attempts. Jones, Plecker and Noah Whitten each had two receptions and Starnes and Clemens each had one. Saunders was eight for 15 passing and 164 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had 10 tackles, while Mitch Garrels, Wyatt Cole and Hunter Coffman totaled eight each.
Van Buren travels to Highland Friday for a critical matchup in Class A, District 5. "We know we have a chance in the remaining games," Saunders said. "They will be tough, but we have an opportunity to make the playoffs, something we've never done before. Everybody is involved in practice. We just need to remain focused, listen to the coaches and take one game at a time."