PANAMA CITY BEACH — Cody Saunders’ ability to make plays with his feet and his arm spelled the difference between Arnold and Holmes County on Friday night.
Saunders ran for three touchdowns and passed for another, and he helped Arnold pull away in the second half of a 41-13 victory over the Blue Devils in a non-district high school football showdown at the Mike Gavlak Sports Complex.
Saunders piled up 240 passing yards and 180 rushing yards in the game, which represented the season opener for both programs.
Arnold, which competes in District 1-5A, enjoyed a numbers advantage over its Class 1A counterpart, Holmes County. The Marlins’ superior depth wore down Holmes County in the second half, and Saunders exploited that advantage as the game progressed.
The two teams were tied at 13-13 at halftime, but an interception by Trentin Lewis gave Arnold possession at the Blue Devil 35. Six plays later, Saunders plunged into the end zone on a 1-yard run to put the Marlins on top 20-13 midway through the third quarter.
Following a Holmes County punt, Saunders capped the Marlins’ next possession with a 13-yard romp to the end zone for a 27-13 advantage. Arnold boosted its lead to 34-13 when Jamonte Johnson raced 7 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils seized a 7-0 lead on their opening drive of the game. Chad Leavins rumbled 40 yards on six carries on the possession, including a 15-yard touchdown run to give Holmes County the early lead.
Saunders, who completed 11 of 19 passes and carried the ball nine times, raced 85 yards for a touchdown on Arnold’s second play from scrimmage to tie the game at 7-7.
Arnold receiver Jovanni Perea, who caught five passes for 158 yards, hauled in a pass from Saunders in the second quarter, wriggled free from a pair of would-be tacklers and ran 79 yards for a touchdown and a 13-7 advantage.
The Blue Devils evened the score at 13-13 just 52 seconds before halftime with Justice Bice’s 22-yard touchdown reception off a throw from quarterback Shane Sellers.
Arnold’s backup quarterback, freshman Gannon Powell, provided the game’s final margin with a 25-yard touchdown run with 6½ minutes left.
Holmes County 7 6 0 0 — 13
Arnold 7 6 14 7 — 34
HC: Leavins 15 run (Etheridge kick)
Arn: Saunders 85 run (Peffers kick)
Arn: Perea 79 pass from Saunders (kick failed)
HC: Bice 22 pass from Sellers (kick failed)
Arn: Saunders 1 run (Peffers kick)
Arn: Saunders 13 run (Peffers kick)
Arn: Johnson 7 run (Peffers kick)
Arn: Powell 25 run (Peffers kick)