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Last-second field goal lifts United South past Rams, 24-21

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Fighting for yards

Laredo United South running back Brian Benavides tries to find some running room against Del Rio defenders Orlando Guerrero (17) and Andrew Garza (40) during Friday's game at Walter Levermann Ram Stadium.

Laredo United South’s Christian Gonzalez had already missed one field goal Friday night, and his second kick to win the game sailed wide and appeared to send the game against Del Rio to overtime.

Then the whistles blew and the game’s officials indicated Del Rio head coach Roderick Taylor had called timeout to “ice” Gonzalez.

Blessed with a second chance, Gonzalez didn’t miss again, hitting on a 36-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Panthers to a 24-21 win over the Rams in front of a rowdy Del Rio crowd.

The loss drops the Rams to 2-6 on the season and 2-2 in district play. South improves to 5-3 overall and 4-0 in district.

The Rams can still clinch a playoff spot, but they cannot afford another loss. Del Rio travels to Laredo to face Alexander this coming Friday before hosting Eagle Pass in the regular season finale the next week.

Del Rio opened the game strong, marching down the field on the strength of quarterback Matt Mendez’s legs and his arm. After a six-yard run moved the Rams inside the South 10, Mendez hit Dominic Sanchez for an eight-yard scoring strike. Gabriel Zapata’s kick gave Del Rio an early 7-0 lead.

South hit the ground running on its first possession as junior Brian Benavides took the handoff and burst through the line for a 42-yard gain to the Rams’ 27-yard line. His next carry netted 14 yards, and South was at Del Rio’s 13.

But the Panthers’ offense bogged down from there and Gonzalez was sent out for a 35-yard field goal. His kick clanged off the right upright, and Del Rio dodged an early scoring threat.

South would get another chance almost immediately as Del Rio’s Ricky Haynes was hit and lost the ball. The Panthers recovered at Del Rio’s 23 and went back to work.

South churned up the field and looked like they would score the equalizer, but Benavides fumbled near the goalline and the Rams recovered at the three-yard line.

Two plays later, though, the exchange between Mendez and running back Ivan Basurto missed and the ball fell to the ground. South pounced on it in the end zone for the defensive score, and Gonzalez’s kick tied the game at 7-7.

Del Rio turned the ball over four times in the game, and three of those turnovers led directly to Panthers’ points.

After Mendez was intercepted on the Rams next possession, South moved quickly down the field. A big run by Benavides set up the Panthers at the Rams 31. Three plays later, quarterback Efrain Hernandez hit a wide open Hector Montemayor for the touchdown, and Gonzalez’s kick gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead.

Del Rio cut the lead to 14-10 on a 46-yard Gabriel Zapata field goal, but only after penalties and a sack on Mendez turned a 1st and goal from the one-yard line to a fourth and goal from the 29-yard line.

After Del Rio forced a South punt, the Rams cut further into the lead as Zapata connected on a 34-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in the first half. The kick left the Rams down, 14-13, as the teams headed into halftime.

South got the ball to start the second half and Benavides put his skills on display. The junior carried the ball eight times on the Panthers’ ensuing 11-play drive, picking up 55 yards including the final 14 as he rushed for the score, his 24th rushing touchdown of the season. Gonzalez’s kick was again good, and the lead was up to 21-13.

Del Rio’s next drive was aided by a pair of South penalties.

The first penalty as targeting penalty against South’s defensive tackle that set the Rams up near midfield and resulted in the South defender being ejected.

Four plays later, the Rams punted, but kicker Sergio Mireles was creamed by South’s rush, drawing a roughing the kicker penalty and giving the Rams new life at the South 39-yard line.

When the Rams offense stalled on fourth and two at the South 31, Del Rio lined up to punt. Instead of kicking, though, Mireles rushed up to the line and then moved to his left, setting up a direct snap to Gabriel Sanchez.

The usual defensive lineman, who lined up as a blocker, took the ball and chugged through the line, racing untouched 31 yards for the touchdown. Del Rio went for two, and Mendez hit Mireles for the conversion and tied the game at 21-21 with 4:05 left in the third quarter.

Del Rio’s defense dialed up another big play as the quarter came to an end when Alejandro De Luna hit Hernandez as he tried to pass, forcing an incompletion and a turnover on downs.

Most of the fourth quarter was a battle of defenses as the teams exchanged punts three times before the Rams got the ball back at their own 23-yard line with just under three minutes left to play.

After a short run by Sergio Alameda, Mendez tried to find some running room through the Panthers’ line, but he was hit and the ball was knocked loose. South recovered at the Rams’ 31 with 1:57 to play.

South methodically moved down the field. Benavides did most of the rushing, carrying three straight times to the Rams 19. After Hernandez was dropped for a two-yard loss, Benavides carried the ball once more to the 19-yard line, and South called a timeout with three seconds left to give Gonzalez a chance to win the game, which he eventually did.

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