ANNA — With a playoff berth on the line, Princton’s Julio Vazquez booted a 29-yard field goal as time expired Friday to lift Princeton’s Panthers past the Anna Coyotes, 35-34. With the win, Princeton (5-5, 2-3) earned the fourth and final playoff spot from District 7-4A Div. I and will face Van (9-1, 4-1) on Thursday in the bi-district round.
For Anna (6-4, 1-4), a season that started sky-high with six straight wins had ended with four losses and no post-season berth.
“It’s tough right now,” Anna head coach Jason Heath said. “It was a game of momentum. At times they had it, then we had it. They kind of stopped our momentum there in the third when we were rolling. … It was kind of back and forth. They came up with some big plays there at the end. We had opportunities.”
Junior quarterback Keelan Crosby’s 29-yard touchdown run had just given the Coyotes a 34-32 lead with 3:34 left to play. But the point-after kick was missed, leaving the door open for Vazquez’ late heroics. Princeton promptly marched 55 yards in 10 plays for the game-winner, the key play being a 29-yard throw from Jacob Purdon to Kai Brinkerhoff.
“The kids believed, they fought,” Princeton head coach Lee Wilkins said. “I was proud of their effort. That’s a great football team over there, (Anna). They could have won this game very easily, OK? And maybe should have, at times. But I was happy with the composure and the passion and the will of our kids to get the drives when they needed, and to make the kick.”
Anna’s senior Daunte Rose led all rushers with 217 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. As a defender, Rose also stripped the ball from a Princeton runner and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown, giving the Coyotes a 14-7 lead in the second-quarter.
Purdon, sharing quarterback duties with Brendon Strickland, led Princeton rushers with 160 yards on 34 carries and Brinkerhoff nabbed six passes for 114 yards, both game-highs.
Down 7 with 26 seconds left before halftime, Strickland connected with Alex Flores on a 42-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 14-all. But Princeton’s second quarter wasn’t done. On Anna’s next play from scrimmage, Rose lost the ball to the Panthers at the Coyotes’ 22, and Vazquez came on to kick a 35-yard field goal with no time on the clock, and Princeton led, 17-14, at the break.
Anna, though, would dominate the third quarter. After senior Donald Maloid returned the second-half opening kickoff to midfield, the Coyotes marched for a go-ahead touchdown in seven plays, the last an 8-yard burst by Rose. Crosby followed that with a short scoring run two plays after Rose had rambled 85 yards to the Panthers’ 7, and Anna led, 28-17. Princeton regained the lead in the fourth quarter, 32-28, on a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs by Purdon and Purdon’s 2-point conversion run.
The Panthers opened the game with an 8-play, 68-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Philip Mayfield. Anna’s first drive stalled after three plays and on 4th-and-1 from their own 34, the Coyotes went for it only to have quarterback Lawrence Goade stopped for no gain. With their backs against the wall, Anna’s defense forced a punt and Crosby came on to lead the Coyotes on an 84-yard, 12-play touchdown drive to tie the game at 7-7. Rose had runs of 13, 15 and 9 yards on the march, and he recorded the score on a 1-yard run.
After the game, Heath met briefly with this group of Coyotes for the final time on a football field.
“I just mainly spoke to our seniors and (told them) how much we appreciate them buying into what we’ve been doing here the last five years,” he said. “We just talked about how far they’ve come since they were eighth graders, you know, sticking with it. I’m just extremely really proud of that and for the season that we had. … We’ve got a lot to take away from it, a lot to go to work on.”