Oct. 29, 2020

BY Greg Selber

It was a parade of near-misses Thursday with each team driving consistently, only to eventually be stopped by the opposing defense, short of the mark. The Cougars and Raiders had their chances, took their shots, and had their standouts, but at the end of the day it was Pharr North that collected the laurels.

With a score at 1:09, the visitor to Richard R. Flores Stadium eased ahead of North, 20-13, marking the second week in a row it had bested a city club, on the heels of last week’s victory over Econ. The Coogs (1-1), having subdued P-SJ-A by a touchdown last week thanks to a last-ditch goal-line stand, had more of the same punch on the defensive side against the Raiders, holding them out on a number of marches that penetrated into Blue and Gold territory. 

Conversely, the offense produced some thrills for the home fans, with backup quarterback Robert Gonzalez reprising his fireman role with a competent night’s work and quick little powerpack Ricky Garza making eight catches and nearly taking the last kickoff of the game back for six. He was stopped at his 42 after a blistering effort, but in the waning seconds the Coogs could not muster a tying salvo.

This probably fits into the One That Got Away category, as coach Damien Gonzalez’ group played well enough to win. A few special team blunders blunted the burst, and when the Raiders registered a six-pointer on the last snap of the first half to cut into a 13-0 North lead, the stage was set for a second half of ebbs and flows. The occasional late lapse, after a relatively flawless first half, meant that the Coogs found themselves on the outside looking in at the close.


One of the main goals Thursday was to contain a Raider rushing attack that had churned out 541 yards against the Jags, and this the Coogs did fairly well. The visitor drove to the home 17 early on before burly tackle Trebor Acuna made a key third-down stop to force a missed field goal. North returned the favor with a march of its own behind battering ram Jean Carlo Reyes, who bulled for 68 yards on the night. But a sack ended the chance.

It was scoreless after one, but early in the second period, North took advantage of a short field to take a 7-0 lead when Gonzalez (13 of 22 for 141 yards in relief of Michael Rodriguez, who sat out with an ankle injury) found Garza on a 27-yard scoring toss at 7:06 of the second. Racing into the end zone, Garza leapt against a taller Raider corner and snared the ball at the apex of his jump, tumbling to green with the ball and the lead. 

On the next series, which began at the Pharr North 35, Gonzalez found Miguel Contreras for a 29-yard gain which led to a 6-yard quarterback keeper and a 13-0 advantage at 5:26. It looked like Gonzalez and Co. would maintain that gap until the enemy percolated late, getting to the North 3 thanks to a facemask penalty on a punt and a defensive holding call that put Coach Marcus Kaufman’s bunch on intimate terms with the end zone. As the horn sounded for the half, the Raiders completed a 3-yard pass to close to within six.

The Coogs enjoyed the start of the second half, as on the first snap they forced a fumble that end Robert Ortiz hopped on at the Raider 27. This ended up being one of the missed opportunities as North could not take advantage of the turnover, missing a field goal at 9:28.

However, the defense continued to come up with big plays, stopping an 11-play Raider journey just outside the Red Zone. The hero was outside linebacker Malachi Ortega, who made two licks on the drive and rushed the passer into an incomplete on fourth down. Ortega was an inspired football player Thursday with eight tackles; fellow LB Daniel Rodriguez chipped in with 10 while corner Gerardo Pena collected eight stops with a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Pena’s recovery came after the Coogs had driven to the PN 29 and came up a yard short on fourth down, whereupon the Raiders swarmed all the way to the North 6 in eight plays, only to lose the fumble to Pena at 10:27 of the fourth.

Gonzalez of North had assumed most of the rushing chores by then, as Reyes contributed just four carries in the half. The former ended with 53 yards, finding his way on keepers and gutting his way to extra yards with second effort. Glow Up, Robert!

Down the stretch, PN surged as star runner Isaac Gonzalez finally got rolling, and when it went 60 yards in nine plays, the game was tied at 13 after a 4-yard TD pass at 4:40. After sticking to the ground almost exclusively versus Econ, the Raiders threw well Thursday, totaling 97 yards through the air against 290 via the rush. The Coogs ran for 119 on 42 carries for less than three yards a pop, amassing 260 total yards.

It was obvious that the Raiders possessed the momentum late in the affair, and North got the ball back after the score, but was unable to move it. Taking the subsequent punt, PN sailed 61 yards in eight snaps, Gonzalez making a memorable tackle-breaking scoot to put the game away.

That the game came off at all was somewhat of a surprise after North’s scheduled bout with Vela had been postponed due to a COVID outbreak in the SaberCat grid program. Damien Gonzalez and Kaufman decided to hook up earlier in the week, leading to the competitive match Thursday in town.After two games the Coogs have established their ethic for the 2020 season with a rugged running attack and an opportunistic defense. They know that in a pinch, the trusty Robert Gonzalez can come on and make the throws, and again, he impressed with his rushing prowess against the Raiders. Ortega, Rodriguez and Justin Cappadona (11 tackles to lead the charge, he was very active in the second half) form a fine linebacker corps, which will be paramount heading forward because of the season-ending knee injury to the ill-fated mauler Aurelio Lozano. Safety Gio Gonzalez was also a steady performer in the ball game with seven hits and a pass defensed.

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