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’ 5-yard-line likely gave Anna fans a “one of those nights” feel as the Coyotes trailed, 21-3, in the second quarter.


But Anna’s comeback-spark appeared with a touchdown just before halftime and it grew to a 21-0 shutout the rest of the way as the Coyotes cruised to their fourth-straight victory — 31-21, over winless North Lamar. Running back Warren Mason led Anna’s charge with 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including an 88-yard Panther backbreaker in the fourth quarter. North Lamar quarterback Kobey Emeyabbi rushed 31 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns but his two second-half fumbles cost the Panthers dearly.


The teams combined for over 500 yards rushing on 78 attempts on the muddy natural turf at R.L. Maddox Stadium. When the slugfest was over, Anna’s all-white uniforms were old-school dingy brown but to Coyotes head coach Jason Heath, his squad never looked better.


“I knew that wasn’t the team that we are in the first half,” he 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. … [The Panthers] were big up front. It was a physical ball game in the trenches. They say it comes down to the guys up front and that’s what happened.”


Kicker Gustavo Martinez booted a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter and was 4-for-4 in point-after kicks. Linebacker John Mark Box led the Coyotes with 12 tackles, six solo, while defensive back Abner Dubar collected 11 stops with eight solos. Linebacker Josh Flauding tallied nine tackles, four solo, and he forced a fumble.


“[At halftime],” Heath said, “we talked about guys doing their jobs, being a teammate and doing what you’re coached to do.” As for quarterback Junior Rodriguez recovering to lead the Coyotes to victory after three picks, Heath said, “[We told him] he’s got to put all that aside and forget about it and go play the second half. And he did that. I expect that out of a senior back there. … A different guy shows up each and every week and makes plays. 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.”


Heath said leading rusher Dorian Allen was used sparingly this game after being “banged up a little” in practice. “We didn’t want to use him a lot if we didn’t have to. … [Mason] did a great job. He’s got some deceitful speed. People don’t realize how fast he is.”


“I’m proud about it,” Mason said of his 16-carry evening. “This is the most I’ve showed out this season. … It was a rough start, but [the offensive line] started getting their blocks which opened gaps for me which led to my touchdowns.” Mason noted it was receiver Emmonte Davis’ key block on the edge that sprung his long-distance scoring sprint. “I think he pancaked the corner. That just made it smooth sailing to the end zone.”


“This is our first district game,” defensive back Kareem Mason said. “We’re going to go out and play. We’re not fixing to go out like that. We kept fighting and got the win.”


Said Flauding of the Coyotes’ turnaround, “The linebackers just started reading our keys. We weren’t reading our keys in the first half and that’s what really killed us.”


It was Junior Rodriguez’ 9-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 27 seconds left in the first half that drew Anna (4-1) to within 21-10. The score was set up when Emeyabbi, punting from his own end zone, pulled down a high snap and chose to run but was stopped at his own 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, the Panthers got a pick 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. 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.


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 to play.


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. It was one of several big Coyote stops down the stretch.


“That’s just hard work and dedication and practice,” Sparks said. “We train for that every day.”


Then with two minutes left, on 3rd-and-2 from near midfield, Warren Mason clinched the win with a tough four-yard burst for a first down that allowed the Coyotes to drain the clock.


Martinez’ first-quarter field goal gave Anna an early 3-0 lead. The Coyotes forced a three-and-out on North Lamar’s first possession, but on Anna’s next play Rodriguez’ twice-tipped pass was picked off and returned 20 yards to the Coyotes’ 45. Seven plays later, Emeyabbi found the end zone from four yards out and North Lamar led, 6-3.


Davis returned the ensuing kickoff to the Panthers’ 4 but it came back to the 20 for a block in the back. Three plays later, North Lamar had its second interception when Rodriguez looked for Davis in the end zone. An 80-yard Panthers scoring drive followed, kept alive by Wilson’s 6-yard run on 4th-and-5 from the Anna 29. Wilson juked 23-yards for a touchdown on the next play and, after Emeyabbi’s 2-point conversion run, North Lamar led, 14-3.


Trying to avoid Davis on the next kickoff, the Panthers’ kicker sent three-straight balls out of bounds. Finally taking over on its 30, Anna put together a 10-play drive to the North Lamar 4 – a push boosted by a pair of Warren Mason 19-yard runs. But on 4th-and-goal from there, Rodriguez’ pass to the right flat was incomplete. The Panthers went up, 21-3, on Emeyabbi’s 1-yard run after an eight-play drive that featured Emeyabbi runs of 25 and 28 yards and a 15-yard Anna penalty near midfield.


Anna 31, North Lamar 21


Anna 3 7 14 7 - 31


N. Lamar 6 15 0 0 - 21


FIRST QUARTER


Anna - Gustavo Martinez 21 FG, 8:48


N. Lamar - Kobey Emeyabbi 4 run (run failed), 4:30


SECOND QUARTER


N. Lamar - Ta’Dray Wilson 23 run (Kobey Emeyabbi run), 10:49


N. Lamar - Kobey Emeyabbi 1 run, (Favian Morales kick), 3:43


Anna - Emmonte Davis 9 pass from Junior Rodriguez (Gustavo Martinez kick), 0:27


THIRD QUARTER


Anna - Warren Mason 27 run (Gustavo Martinez kick), 6:34


Anna – Junior Rodriguez 1 run (Gustavo Martinez kick). 4:05


FOURTH QUARTER


Anna – Warren Mason 88 run (Gustavo Martinez kick), 8:45


Stats Anna N. Lamar


First Downs 14 16


Rushes-yards 40-239 38-283


Passing yards 41 35


C-A-I 4-10-3 3-5-0


Punts-average 1-51 1-33


Penalties-yards 5-55 8-65


Fumbles-lost 0-0 4-3


Individual statistics


Rushing - Anna: Warren Mason 16-184, Abner Dubar 8-46, Junior Rodriguez 9-18, Dorian Allen 6-3, Gavin Reno 1-(-12); North Lamar: Kobey Emeyabbi 31-169, Ta’Dray Wilson 26-109, Quran Anglin 1-5.


Passing - Anna: Junior Rodriguez 4-10-3-41; North Lamar: Kobey Emeyabbi 3-5-0-35.


Receiving - Anna: Emmonte Davis 2-21, Noah Palshaw 1-13, Kareem Mason 1-5; North Lamar: Ta’Dray Wilson 1-18, Rhino Moore 1-11, Jaxon Noble 1-6.