VAN ALSTYNE — With under four minutes left to play on Friday, longtime rivals Anna and Van Alstyne were locked in a tight 21-19 contest, with the Coyotes up and Van Alstyne driving for a go-ahead score.
That situation changed in the blink of a Highway 5 possum’s eye.
After the Panthers’ bid for the lead ended on an incomplete fourth-down pass, Anna drove 69 yards for a Micaiah Ross touchdown and led, 28-19, with 1:57 remaining. On the next snap from scrimmage, Coyotes linebacker Jacob Odom picked off quarterback Zach Smith’s pass to the right side and sped to the end zone for his first career touchdown.
So long, photo finish. Anna wins, 35-19.
Adding to Van Alstyne’s frustration, the Coyotes put the ball on the ground three times on their final touchdown drive - and 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 the Class 3A Panthers (1-2).
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 1. But on fourth down he was stuffed for a loss by tackle Rasheed Readus and company. With 39 seconds the clock, the Coyotes’ 1-point lead looked safe until halftime.
But on the next play, Nwokorie broke free for 23 yards - then lost the ball near the Panthers’ sideline. Van Alstyne defender Dalton McCaslin scooped it up and, with another 15-yard penalty tacked on, 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 2-point-conversion run failed but Van Alstyne had momentum at the break, 19-14.
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 challenged them at halftime to not make it about themselves. It’s about the team. 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.”
Regarding the Coyotes’ 100-plus yards in penalties, Heath said, “We’ve just got to get it corrected,” he said. “It’s holding us back and it will cost us sooner or later. … We’ve got some kids that are still young. It was their third varsity football game. We’re still getting seasoned right now … but we’re starting out pretty good.”
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, both game-highs, and Adams connected on 10-of-19 passes for 203 yards.
“It was really just a team effort,” Allen said. “We focused from the start and it just connected. We came out bangin’ it and it went down right.” As for overcoming turnovers and penalties, he said, “We just stayed locked in. We didn’t let that get to us. We played like a team, like a family.”
What does it mean to beat the Panthers? “Everything,” Allen said.
Defensively for the Coyotes, linebacker Josh Packard logged seven solo tackles and six assists with one pass knock-down while Odom had seven solos and two assists. Safety Dre Moon added six solo tackles with two assists.
Van Alstyne ran the ball well early on. Jake Carroll rolled for 66 first-quarter yards, including a 40-yard burst off left tackle to tie things at 7-7. Smith came on for starting quarterback Tymothe Rosenthal on the Panthers’ second possession and finished with a team-high 95 rushing yards on 15 carries. His 44-yard touchdown run in the second quarter drew Van Alstyne to within 14-13 with 10:12 left in the half. A 2-point-conversion-pass was incomplete.
“In the beginning there were parts where were messing up,” Readus said of the Panthers’ early rushing success. “But later on I felt like we started to fix it.” As for his big stop on Van Alstyne’s fourth-down try from Anna’s 1 in the first half, he said, “I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t scared. I was just really wanting to get them. I wanted to do my job.”
Next up, Anna will host Benbrook and Van Alstyne travels to face Emory Rains.
Anna 35, Van Alstyne 19
Anna 14 0 7 14 - 35
Van Alstyne 7 12 0 0 - 19
A - Dorien Allen 53 pass from Jaden Adams (Justin Amon kick), 10:59
VA - Jake Carroll 40 run (Danny Kern kick), 8:01
A - Dorien Allen 69 pass from Jaden Adams (Justin Amon kick), 6:34
VA - Zach Smith 44 run (pass failed), 10:12
VA - Cam Montgomery 18 pass from Zach Smith (run failed), :07
A – Arthur Nwokorie 42 run (Justin Amon kick), 7:49
A- Micaiah Ross 3 run (Justin Amon kick), 1:57
A- Jacob Odom 29 interception return (Justin Amon kick), 1:44
Stats Anna VA
First downs 16 12
Rushes-yards 38-186 39-207
Passing yards 203 50
C-A-I 10-19-2 2-11-0
Punts-average 4-33.7 7-39.5
Penalties-yards 8-101 11-83
Fumbles-lost 4-1 2-0
Rushing - Anna: Arthur Nwokorie 16-109, Micaiah Ross 8-29, Dorien Allen 3-33, Josh Adams 3-21, Jaden Adams 6-(-3), Noah Palshaw 2-(-3). Van Alstyne - Zach Smith 15-95, Jake Carroll 15-73, Jaden Mahan 7-29, Zach Moncier 2-10.
Passing - Anna: Jaden Adams 10-19-2-203. Van Alstyne: Zach Smith 2-11-0-33, Tymothe Rosenthal 1-1-0-17, Gavin Bybee 0-1-0-0.
Receiving - Anna: Dorien Allen 7-148, Noah Palshaw 2-39, Joey Montano 1-16. Van Alstyne: Cam Montgomery 2-33, Zach Moncier 1-17.