LA JOYA — When La Joya High and Raymondville took the field Friday at La Joya ISD Stadium for their first scrimmage of the season, all eyes were fixated on one imposing player.

On the first offensive snap of the scrimmage, Coyotes senior running back Eddie Villarreal took off up the middle of the defense, trucking a defender, juking another and hurdling a third Bearkats player for a powerful 14-yard gain. Two plays later, he slipped multiple defenders and dashed 25 yards down the sideline.

It was par for the course for Villarreal, who led La Joya with 1,623 rushing yards and 252 carries as a junior in 2018. He said a goal for 2019 is for the Coyotes to expand their passing game to create opportunities on the ground.

“We’re trying to open things up because last year teams would load the box,” Villarreal said. “We’re trying to get our receivers a chance and our a-backs so we can spread everything out.”

La Joya’s star running back ran for 81 yards on the first two possessions accounting for most of his team’s offense. But the moment of the night came when Villarreal was tackled from behind on another long run, landing awkwardly on his leg.

He struggled to walk off the field under his own power and had his left ankle wrapped with tape and ice on the trainer’s table, where he spent the rest of the evening.

Elsewhere, the Coyotes struggled to throw the ball and limit turnovers offensively. They were most effective with option runs that befuddled the Raymondville defense at times.

La Joya entered the night locked in a tight quarterback battle, but each of its young signal callers struggled to consistently connect with receivers down field in part due to the Bearkats’ air-tight secondary.

“We’ll have to see if somebody’s going to face the challenge,” La Joya head coach Reuben Farias said. “If both of them battle it out, then all year long they’ll be battling.”

The Coyotes sniffed the end zone a few times with Villarreal leading the charge but didn’t register any points and struggled to move the ball down field after his departure with the exception of a few big outside runs.

Defensively, however, La Joya’s youth showed against an explosive Bearkats offense. The Coyotes ran into problems when it came to pressuring the opposing quarterback and containing long outside runs by Raymondville’s Zaraivion Armendarez, Kameron Means and Justin Cantu, who combined for four trips to the end zone.

But La Joya excelled defensively up the middle and in the secondary, stuffing runs between the tackles and smothering wide receivers deep downfield and in the red zone.

The Bearkats, who are trying to resolve a quarterback situation of their own, looked most effective with junior Jarod Cavazos behind center. Cavazos was the most consistent passer on either side, regularly hitting his targets on rollout passes and occasionally finding success with his feet too.

Raymondville was unable to reliably get rid of the ball on time, connect with receivers or hold onto the football when Cavazos was out of the game.

Raymondville will host its next scrimmage against La Villa at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23, while La Joya High will welcome Rio Grande City for its final scrimmage at 7 p.m. on the same day.