PARIS — Things couldn’t have started off much worse for the Anna Coyotes at Paris North Lamar on Friday in the district-opener for both teams. Three first-half interceptions — two in the end zone — and two other drives stalling inside the Panthers’ five-yard-line put the Coyotes In a 21-3 hole late in the second quarter.
But Anna’s comeback spark appeared with a touchdown just before half-time and it grew the rest of the way in a 31-21 victory to start District 7-4A (I) play. Warren Mason led the charge with 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Anna (4-1, 1-0), including an 88-yard backbreaker in the fourth quarter. North Lamar’s Kobey Emeyabbi rolled to 169 yards rushing on 31 carries but his two second-half fumbles cost the Panthers (0-5, 0-1).
The teams combined for over 500 yards rushing on 78 attempts on the muddy natural turf at R.L. Maddox Stadium.
“I knew that wasn’t the team that we are in the first half,” head coach Jason Heath said. “We showed that in the second half. I’m extremely proud of them. We were down by 11 at halftime. We’ve been down by 15. So we knew they had it in them.”
It was Junior Rodriguez’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Emmonte Davis with 27 seconds left in the first half that drew Anna, which has won four straight, to within 21-10. The score was set up when Emeyabbi, punting from his own end zone, pulled down a high snap and ran but was stopped at the Panthers’ 11.
The Coyotes nearly punched in one more score before the break when Kareem Mason recovered the ensuing mishandled kickoff for Anna at North Lamar’s 27, but with 18 ticks left Rodriguez was picked off in the end zone.
Early in the third quarter, Logan Rodriguez pounced on an Emeyabbi fumble at the North Lamar 44 and Warren Mason soon bounced off the right side for 27-yard TD dash to pull the Coyotes to within 21-17.
“He did a great job,” Heaths aid. “He’s got some deceitful speed. People don’t realize how fast he is.”
Kareem Mason then set up Anna’s next score with his second kickoff takeaway, this one at the Panthers’ 19. Five plays later, Rodriguez popped into the end zone from a yard out and Anna led 24-21 with 4:05 left in the third.
“It was a physical ball game in the trenches,” Heath said. “They say it comes down to the guys up front and that’s what happened.”
Noah Palshaw ended North Lamar’s next drive by snatching an Emeyabbi fumble in mid-air at the Coyotes’ 24. The Panthers threatened again as the fourth quarter got underway but Nick Reid stuffed their 4th-and-3 try from Anna’s 12. Two plays later, Warren Mason skirted out to the left and was off to the races for 31-21 Coyotes lead with 8:45 left.
“It was a rough start,” Mason said, “but [the offensive line] started getting their blocks which opened gaps for me which led to my touchdowns.”
North Lamar’s final push was thwarted at the Anna 27 with 3:44 remaining when Tyler Sparks stopped Ta’Dray Wilson inches shy of a first down.
“A different guy shows up each and every week and makes plays,” Heath said. “It comes down to making plays. We’re 1-0 in district. That’s where we wanted to be. We’ve got a tough Paris team coming to our place next week, so we’re going to have to play much better than we did tonight.”