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RIVALRY WEEK KICKS OFF WITH EHS-NORTH; BOBCATS PREVAIL, 24-14, VIA PICK-SIXES

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Nov. 12, 2020

BY GREG SELBER

There have been some tremendous battles in the course of this storied rivalry, including ties (remember them?) in two of the first three clashes between North and EHS. Since it began in 1991, the annual Grudge Match – and here we borrow the unofficially trademarked moniker from softball – there have been blowouts, such as 39-0 North in 1996 and 35-0 EHS in 2004. Too have we seen low-scoring brawls where the winning side managed fewer than 10 points (North each incident, 9-6 in 1992 and 8-3 in 2012).

It’s always fierce and usually a little poignant, and for the 2020 edition, the Bobcats celebrated their homecoming. The football was, well, just say uneven.

It is true that in the measure of the night, after which EHS (2-1) prevailed by 10, there were some fantastic moments, many provided by the infinitely redoubtable Emmanuel Duron. The Cougars (2-2) refused to quit after falling behind and the determined defense in particular left it all out there on the field, as they say. Ricky Garza turned in a scintillating 88-yard touchdown run for a North offensive unit that lost two linemen to injury on one single, ill-fated snap Thursday.

But in the main, this was a game of mistakes, missed opportunities, and frustration. In the odd Zone format that has been forced on us by COVID, this was a very key matchup as far as seedings are concerned. However, neither team distinguished itself through precision save for stretches of the affair, and as can at times be the case, the flow of the night was interrupted, especially in the second half, by a torrent of whistles and flags – most of them, one grudgingly admits, deserved.

Still, it was EHS-North, and as one wise wag once opined, that makes it always, in the end, good.

BANG-UP BEGINNING

Coach Damian Gonzalez was intent on one thing for his club coming in, and that was to tackle, well and surely. But early on, this did not take place, as the Bobcats rumbled 70 yards in six plays, the thick-set senior Shandon Woodard breaking tackles on a 44-yard romp and then cramming in from the 6 at 9:26 to cap the opening drive.

In a harbinger of things to come, each rival then had a possession stymied by penalty, EHS on a chop block (used to be legal, and effective), North by a hold. EHS was in position to open up a 14-0 chasm, steaming from its 22 to the Coog 2, before the hard-hitting Justin Cappadona (nine tackles) combined with DB Moises Maldonado (12 stops to lead the team; his best game so far in 2020) to force a fumble. Rene Hernandez corralled the loose pig at his own 1, just 28 seconds into the second period.

Rather than go down by two scores, the Coogs quickly evened the account when Garza, from a setback spot, raced up the middle, gained speed, and swayed left and gone. This breathtaking 88-yard run knotted things at 7 and it appeared that the groups would then settle in.

The Coogs next advanced to the Bobcat 30 before running aground, but soon took the short field advantage: a smashing stick by Cappadona on quarterback Rolando Abrego forced an errant pass and when EHS – struggled early with punt snaps – managed just a 22-yard boot, it looked like North was in stride.

This was not how it turned out, with Duron, of whom much ink has been spilled in the past two seasons, the main cog. First, he broke through to recover a Cougar fumble with 2:12 left before the half and on the last ticks of the half he boomed a 51-yard field goal, room to spare, to give his mates 10-7 lead.

North had planned to work around the indefatigable No. 88, reading his alignment and movement, acting accordingly. But he is nothing if not stubborn, and had other ideas, lining up at no fewer than three different slots along the EHS front four Thursday. At times, cliché or no, he seemed to be at tackle and end on the same snap, such was his lightning quickness off the ball combined with mammoth strength and – always – a downright Football Mean that cannot be taught or tutored. Seldom has the town seen such a marauding and dominant football player.

COMETH THE FLAGS

As stated, North got the worse for wear Thursday in the luck department, losing its fine center, Jacob Paez along with starting QB Mike Rodriguez, halfway home. This put the Coogs in the reactionary position of trying to hang on and find other options. Luckily, the defensive unit was strident in defiance; after the break, Maldonado and Cappadona keyed a charge that did not allow a single first down to EHS in the final 24 minutes, an absolutely unheard of feat. Woodard, who would finish with 148 yards, gained just eight after the half, and the ‘Cats did not complete a pass after the intermission.

That the result ended as a 24-14 Bobcat victory will then go down in Rivalry Lore as one of those unusual and rare birds, and it is to an explication of how this transpired that we now turn.

It was very, very interesting to see Kaleb Guajardo take the Coog helm after intermission, of course because he is a former Bobcat. He was now thrown into a cauldron of danger, given the makeshift makeup of the North line. If anyone were determined to make a mark, it was he.

But the standout of the second half, besides Duron, was the officiating crew. For better or other.

EHS was destined to commit 12 penalties in the half, for 110 yards, and finished with 175 debit steps via a whopping 18 flags. How in the world could a team with such flag fever, one that gained no first downs and 19 total yards in an entire half of football, carve out a win?

Ben Gonzalez.

This sophomore secondary man, raising slight memories of a 10th-grader of old called Sal, would enter the record books with a bullet, returning not one but two interceptions for touchdowns to grease the squeaky wheels of the Bobcat effort. The first came late in the third after a drive that featured more infractions than anything else. With North at the ‘Cat 8 thanks to a pair of offside calls on the defense – one that gifted a first down – Gonzalez stepped in front of a North pass three yards deep in his own end zone. Off he went, alongside a sudden caravan of defenders-cum-blockers, and 103 yards later, it was 17-7, EHS. A penalty (claro) on the play was nugatory, and the exciting sequence stood. Probably a city record, one will investigate.

Trouble for North, but Guajardo was not about to miss his chance at redemption, and now led the Coogs down for a passing score that narrowed the gap to 17-14 with 5:30 to go in the night. Four penalties against EHS had made it easier. As did, directly, another three-and-out from the sputtering Bobcat offense. 

Just when it looked like the Coogs might survive a most disturbing evening, injuries or no, junior Jonathan Duran came up with a pick. The ‘Cats tried vainly to move the ball and run out the clock, to no avail. North got it back with one last shot at the cheese, but this hope was rudely squelched by Gonzalez, who again pilfered a Coog aerial, this time cruising 48 yards for a clinching touchdown in the waning minutes.

Duron was obviously the main man. El Senor del Pueblo collected 12 tackles (including three sacks) and caught a ball for 14 yards that resulted in a monumental sideline collision with Cappadona. Where do you hit him, is the ever-present question, high or low? That’s like asking which end of the atomic bomb will do the most damage.

And Duron showed why the scouts at Texas A&M-Kingsville are salivating, with a second-half sequence on which he exploded through a blocker and pounced on the QB in seemingly one blinding instant. Another time, he rocketed, all low pads and force, through a double-team to slam into the ball-carrier and sling him to the turf; one pictured a lion coiled and unloading on the Serengeti Plain, hurtling with primal intent upon an inexorably doomed wildebeest.

Often obscured by the brilliance of Duron are a number of solid arrows in the EHS defensive quiver. Trusty linebacker Angel Sanchez is always up for it; he produced 11 tackles Thursday. Safety Andre Vargas was excellent as well, with 10 stops and a pair of pass breakups. Aside from the opportunistic Gonzalez, backfield pal Albert Armendariz was in on four pass defense plays, as the young secondary held North passers to a 10-for-29 night, with four picks. It must be mentioned that punter Joseph Sanchez was a weapon in the half, sending turned-over spirals deep and usually out of bounds, denying North returns.

For North, Cappadona and Maldonado were super, while end Raul Gonzalez came up with a fumble and linebacker Daniel Hernandez had a good performance. The Coogs gained 261 total yards, with Jose Suares catching five balls (including the second half TD), but five turnovers were prohibitive medicine. Despite a dismal second half of toil, EHS ended with 243 yards total, the bulk of that on the ground, Abraham Gonzalez adding 44 on five carries to go with Woodard’s tally of 148. The Bobcats now lead the all-time series, 16-10, with two ties.

It will be remembered for fits and starts, moments of glory amid long stretches of halting and faulty execution. This is how it goes sometimes, especially in Rivalry Games. Ending gloss is that, in this most excruciating of seasons, we’ll take it, gladly, warts and all.

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