McALLEN — McAllen Memorial senior running back Campbell Speights lined up in the I-formation behind his quarterback and fullback after the opening kickoff.
He took an inside handoff from senior quarterback Joseph Lara and darted through a hole in the middle of his offensive line. He shook a pair of La Joya High defenders, zig-zagged past several more and cut to the outside.
Speights found a pocket of open space and galloped 78 yards to the end zone with no one to beat to score a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, as he and the Mustangs rushed all over the visiting Coyotes for a big 62-35 bounce-back win Thursday night at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I felt like he made a nice cut and a nice read. The offensive line made a nice crease there and he followed it,” McAllen Memorial head coach Bill Littleton said. “That’s what he does so good: he has great vision, he got in the hole and once he gets some daylight he’s pretty hard to catch.”
Speights entered the contest needing just 24 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He easily surpassed it on his first touch of the evening and continued his sensational start to his senior season.
“It’s pretty cool that I reached that in five games I guess,” Speights said. “My O-line made great blocks and the coaches made a great call. I saw my fullback go down, cut somebody, open the hole and I just took it.”
The Mustangs’ top rusher eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the first play of the second quarter and went on to tally his fifth consecutive 200-yard rushing performance in as many games. He ultimately ended the night with 220 yards on the ground and four rushing scores — from 78, 14, 5 and 49 yards out, respectively — on a mere 16 carries.
“Defensively, it’s tough to keep Campbell down,” La Joya High head coach Reuben Farias said. “You can contain him, but he has the capability of breaking it and he made some big, big runs against us when he had a cutback lane or whatever. The kid is great, give him credit.”
His stellar night rushing the ball was part of an overwhelming performance running the ball between the two teams. La Joya and McAllen Memorial combined to rush for a staggering 827 yards — 447 and 380, respectively — while averaging a surreal 9 yards per touch.
“I thought offensively we played awfully good tonight; we were hitting on all cylinders,” Littleton said. “Our offensive line did a fantastic job tonight, our quarterback did a good job, Campbell was Campbell and the two fullbacks had a good night tonight. All around, I’m very pleased with how our offense played tonight.”
The Coyotes and Mustangs only combined to throw the ball for 37 yards on 2-of-7 passing. McAllen Memorial’s Lara completed the only two passes of the night, one of which was a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Nick Nelson, and also fired a first quarter interception.
La Joya, meanwhile, was led by a breakout performance by senior star running back Eddie Villarreal, who finished second in rushing yards last season behind Speights.
Villarreal toted the ball 28 times for a game-high 245 yards and three rushing touchdowns, most coming in the second half.
“Going against Campbell, it’s been them and the kid from (PSJA) North as the three rushing leaders. For the last couple of years, it’s been between he and Campbell as the co-offensive MVPs, so I knew he wanted to have a better game,” Farias said of his star back. “He knew that the last couple of weeks he hasn’t been able to get the games he wished he had. Tonight, I’m very happy for him because he felt the challenge versus Campbell and just tried to match him.”
“Eddie’s a great football player,” Littleton said. “For whatever reason, he hasn’t had the kind of season I thought he was going to have, but tonight he had it. It seems like he always saves his best for us.”
The Coyotes, however, were hampered time and time again by costly offensive penalties that prematurely ended drives and didn’t allow them to consistently build momentum on offense.
Defensively, La Joya had trouble corralling Speights and his fellow Mustang backfield mates. Michael Lewis ran for 104 yards on eight touches, while Lara added another 44 yards on the ground on five carries.
“We were just sharing the ball as much as we could but keeping our playbook as simple as possible that way we can stunt teams next week,” Speights said.
The highlights of the night for Memorial, though, were a pair of late kickoff return touchdowns: one by senior receiver Zyan Gregory from 96 yards out and the other — the final score of the contest — came on a 70-yard run back by Speights for his fifth touchdown of the evening.
It was a welcome special teams revelation for Littleton and the Mustangs, who have struggled in third phase of the game in the first half of the season.
“I wasn’t expecting to return that last one, but Campbell made a good play and they kicked it to him,” Littleton said. “That’s what an athlete does when you kick it to him.”
McAllen Memorial (4-1, 1-1) will return to action for a big road matchup against the PSJA High Bears (2-2, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday, while La Joya High (2-3, 0-2) will look for its first district win when it squares off at home against McAllen High (2-2, 0-1) at the same time.