American’s football team showed Thursday isn't ready to give up its streak of winning district championships.
In a wild game in which the lead changed eight times, the Patriots gained an early upper hand in the District 13-8A title race with a pivotal 41-36 victory over North Miami Thursday night at Milander Park.
American (2-2, 2-0 in district), which has won five consecutive district titles, entered the season returning only seven players with true game experience according to coach Joseph Morgan.
Those and the younger players that have transitioned into starting roles this season grew up fast Thursday night in a performance in which they rallied from deficits four times to move into first place in the district.
"The start of the season was rough on us," said first-year American coach Joseph Morgan. "We had a lot of guys that came up straight from junior varsity. Honestly, we should have played a lot better than we did. We made a lot of mistakes, but we fought through adversity."
One such youngster is junior quarterback Wanya Williams, who entered the game late in the first quarter in place of senior Tyree Bibby, and energized the Patriots after falling behind 14-0.
Williams threw three touchdown passes and made the key heads up defensive play that kept American in the game when North Miami (3-2, 1-1) appeared ready to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Pioneers cornerback Scottie Felix picked off Williams' pass and scampered 58 yards appearing to score a touchdown that would have given them a two-score lead.
Felix put the ball on the ground prematurely and Williams scooped it up and returned it 98 yards for a go-ahead touchdown that gave American a 33-28 lead.
"Wanya did great off the bench and he’s worked hard and done everything asked of him," Morgan said. "He did a whole lot more positive than negative and that play that could have been a touchdown ended up winning us the game. That was straight up hustle."
North Miami retook the lead 36-33 with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacquez Stuart - the second of two kickoff returns for scores by North Miami in the game. Stuart scored two rushing touchdowns as well.
American committed six turnovers in the game, but its offense had one more answer putting together a 55-yard drive capped by Chaleeb Womble's 5-yard touchdown.
The Patriots’ defense held North Miami on its final drive, sacking quarterback Tyberius Horne on fourth down at midfield.
Horne, who entered the game leading the county in passing, was intercepted three times by American’s defense including two by Xavier Lopez, and held without a touchdown pass.
"Our defense had to overcome a lot including a lot," Morgan said. "But we kept fighting and got the job done."