DALLAS — When Melvin Alexander ran in a 5-yard touchdown with just more than 2 minutes left to give Marietta the lead, it felt like the Blue Devils had all the momentum.

When Carlos Cervantes sacked North Paulding quarterback Boone Anderson in Wolfpack territory a few plays later, it felt close to complete.

But the North Paulding offense kept charging, driving 80 yards for a touchdown pass with 17.5 seconds remaining to win 45-42 on Friday in the Region 3AAAAAAA opener for both teams.

“We never stopped them in the second half,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. “Too many penalties cost us big plays. Then, we finally hit our stride in the fourth quarter, and then I guess we gave them too much time because they went 80 yards on us in the last 2 minutes.

“If they do that, they deserve it.”

Marietta (3-3, 0-1) got off to a 26-14 halftime lead behind 303 yards and four touchdowns from senior quarterback Tyler Hughes, who found Christian Mathis for 24- and 60-yard scores on their first two connections, while Kamryn Perry scored 80- and 34-yard touchdown receptions of his own before intermission.

In fact, Hughes threw the 60- and 80-yard touchdowns on back-to-back offensive plays for the Blue Devils.

After halftime, however, North Paulding (4-2, 1-0) took over with four unanswered scores. Jaylen Poe ran for a pair of scores, Anderson hit Hayden Smith for a touchdown and kicker Ethan Sanchez made a 21-yard field goal after missing wide-left on a 52-yarder that had plenty of distance in the first half.

Marietta then made its fourth-quarter comeback in the final 8 minutes as Hughes drove the Blue Devils for a pair of scores, finishing one with a 6-yard touchdown run of his own and then Alexander’s 5-yard run capped the final Marietta scoring drive.

None of that was enough, however, as Anderson drove North Paulding 80 yards for the win, missing one play after his helmet fell off but capping the final drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Ray.

“The only thing I’m worried about is winning a football game,” Morgan said. “We didn’t win the game. Individual stuff and things like that don’t really matter in a loss.”

Hughes finished 21-of-33 for 459 yards and four touchdowns, while also running for 106 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Perry had 178 yards on seven catches, while Mathis had 146 yards on six catches and Camden Overton had 135 yards on nine catches.

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