VAN ALSTYNE — With under three minutes left to play Friday night, longtime rivals Anna and Van Alstyne were locked in a tight two-point contest — with the Coyotes up and Van Alstyne driving for a go-ahead score.
The situation changed in the blink of a Highway 5 possum’s eye.
First, the Panthers’ bid for the lead ended on an incomplete fourth-down pass and Anna drove 69 yards in 13 plays for a 28-19 lead with 1:57 left to play. Then on the next snap from scrimmage, the Coyotes’ Jacob Odom stepped in front of quarterback Zach Smith’s pass to the right flat and sped to the end zone for his first career touchdown to give Anna the 35-19 win over the Panthers in non-district action.
Perhaps adding to Van Alstyne’s frustration, the Coyotes put the ball on the ground three times on their final touchdown drive — but alertly recovered it each time. Anna (2-1) also overcame a costly fumble just before halftime and two second-half interceptions in notching its fourth straight win over Van Alstyne (1-2).
The Coyotes’ Arthur Nwokorie, whose 42-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter gave Anna the 21-19 lead, finished with a game-high 109 yards on 16 carries.
Another crucial series of plays occurred just before halftime with the Coyotes up, 14-13. After an Anna punt, Drelin Davis’ return to the Coyotes’ 42 was boosted 15 more yards by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. From the 27, with under a minute left in the half, Smith moved the Panthers to Anna’s one but on fourth down he was stuffed for no gain by Rasheed Readus. With 39 seconds on the clock and no VA timeouts left, the Coyotes’ slim lead looked safe until halftime.
But after Nwokorie broke free for 23 yards on the next play, he lost the ball. Van Alstyne’s Dalton McCaslin scooped it up and — with another 15-yard penalty on Anna — the Panthers were in business again at the Coyotes’ 18. On first down, Smith fired over the middle to Cam Montgomery who, after contact at the 10, broke two tackles then took the pile into the end zone with six seconds to spare. The two-point conversion run failed but Van Alstyne had the momentum at halftime and a 19-14 advantage.
The Panthers, though, would not score again and second-half interceptions by Van Alstyne’s Ethan Litzkow and Zach Moncier went for naught.
“We did some good things in the first half,” Coyotes head coach Jason Heath said. “The thing we’re upset about … is right there at the end [of the first half] we talked about just running the football, taking care of the football, getting into halftime. They end up getting a big play. I don’t know, it looked like we were down … but the ball was on the ground, they got the ball. We can’t do that. That’s been our problem the last two weeks, taking care of the football. … We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
“We came out in the second half and did a great job. Our offensive line was wearing on them. We were moving the ball. And I thought our defense played great in the second half.”
Anna led 14-7 after one quarter on two Jaden Adams-to-Dorien Allen touchdown passes — one for 53 yards, the other for 69. Both scores came on third-and-long situations.
“Anytime on third down and you convert — not only convert but convert for a touchdown - we’ll take it,” Heath said.
Allen finished with seven catches for 148 yards and Adams connected on 10-of-19 passes for 203 yards.
Van Alstyne’s Jake Carroll rolled for 66 first-quarter rushing yards, including a 40-yard burst off left tackle to tie things at seven. Smith, with a team-high 95 rushing yards on 15 carries, had a 44-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to pull Van Alstyne to within 14-13. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete.