Nov. 27, 2020
By Greg Selber
At 7:20 of the second period it finally happened, when an extra point bonked off the right upright, falling to the turf – no good – at Richard R. Flores Stadium. Egad, a mistake!
Before that, the whole of the post-Turkey Day bout featuring EHS and Vela had been puro SaberCats, to say it all. At one point, the Sabes had run all of 14 snaps in the first quarter, producing 28 lightning points. It was that sort of rout as Vela (4-0) romped to another easy win, dropping the Bobcats to 2-2 for the season ahead of the Zone Playoffs to be conducted next week. By the half it was 37-0 and the Blue and Black had almost matched the Bobcats, points for yards, as the latter went absolutely en ninguna parte against a quick and determined defense, collecting a mere 42 yards total.
Now, high school football matches on holidays, often Thanksgiving or the day after, used to be part of the Valley scene starting in the 1920s, when Donna and Weslaco started playing on Veterans Day and several other schools would get together on Thanksgiving. Reviving a long defunct practice, due to the COVID pandemic, the Bobcats and SaberCats got together on a muggy November afternoon, one side hoping to stay in the fight for as long as possible.
On the other side, Jaime Perez Jr., who has had his own struggles with the Coronavirus, made sure that EHS hopes would come to naught.
The senior DB-turned-receiver raced back to the Bobcat 44 with an early punt return and after two strikes for 40 yards from A.J. Sotelo to Carlos Tamez, junior P.J. Rivera slashed in for the first of his trio of first-half scores. When Ian Nova pounced on a fumble at the EHS 8 shortly thereafter, Vela cashed in without delay on an 8-yard run from Rivera, who totaled 62 yards in six trips before leaving with a shoulder knock.
Perez then rose to the occasion again, careening 40 yards with another slick punt return to set the Sabes up at the EHS 29. Same scenario: first play, touchdown, this time on a 29-yard pass from Sotelo (7 of 7 for 148 yards, sat out the second half) to Justin Vega at 6:57 of a torrid first period. The electric Vega has at least one TD in each 2020 game.
Perez had been active for the season opener against Mission Vets but then fell victim to illness. And while most teenagers lose smell and taste for a few days and then spend the rest of quarantine getting antsy – suffering few other symptoms and growing sick of video games – Mito was not one of them.
“It was alright the first couple of days, but then it really hit me,” said the bandy-legged playmaker, after the 43-13 final decision was secured. “I mean, it really knocked me down, I was super tired, didn’t feel like doing anything. Not even working out. I’m just glad to be back and playing, and the thing is, the youngsters have come in and stepped it up. That’s good to see, but I was getting tired of being home, man!”
The sparkplug was back in action and his long-awaited brilliance left nary a crumb. The senior also turned in a scintillating 60-yard catch-and-run score down the right sideline, midway through the second period, making it 34-0. EHS got a sack by senior Emmanuel Duron on a subsequent Vela drive, forcing a 35-yard field goal from steady Job Juarez at 0:05 of the half. But for the duration of the first two quarters, the Sabe offensive live did a job on him, holding the ferocious stopper to a measly two tackles. That, along with the breakneck scampers of Perez, was the story of the ball game.
Though Duron got loose for six tackles in the second half, the die was long past cast, and the ability of Vela to limit the destruction wreaked by the one-man hurricane means all credit to the [Come On] Big Hogs up front, and their coaching crew. Every time No. 88 fired off the line, there was a gigantic, not-unquick lineman there, sometimes joined by one of the H-backs – Jakob Potyk or junior Ryan Clough. Vela was primed for Duron, straight up. Other factor: with Vela, the ball is up and out so fast that it’s tough to generate much pass rush.
The rest of the day was clock-watching, as fans smoldered in the surprisingly sunny and hot conditions, the sight of numerous shade umbrellas in the stands – a la The Island – formed a stark contrast to what football fans in the Midwest must be dealing with right now. It was 36 degrees in Duluth Friday, actually a relatively warm prospect for Minnesota grid mavens.
Playing for pride but warming up for a playoff tilt against P-SJ-A at home next week, the Bobcats made a more solid showing after intermission. They marched 15 plays from their own 26 to a touchdown at 9:17 of the fourth, as Duron hauled in a 3-yard scoring flip from Rolando Abrego. Next, Andre Vargas (10 tackles, helluva day for EHS, DB Ryhan Gudino added nine more stops) stepped in front of a pass and ran down to the Sabe 8. Shandon Woodard, who endured a frustrating afternoon of pounding into the enemy line for little payoff, punched in from the 3 at 6:13 and it was beginning to seem respectable.
However, the last play of the game produced a highlight for senior Erik Arguello, who scooped a fumble and frolicked 33 yards to end it with a six-point burst at 0:00. Nova had nine stops Friday for a defense that allowed just 114 total yards, a season best, while Nilson Garcia was terrific with 10 tackles inside. Jiovaney Rodriguez keyed the second unit charge after the break with five tackles and half a sack. Offensively, Teddy Galvan skipped for 91 yards on the ground after replacing Rivera.
For the Bobcats, begoggled hoopster Josh Gonzalez had some productive moments, catching five passes and completing one for 20 yards in a brief first-half QB stint.
Vela now readies for a difficult task ahead, taking on the Mission Eagles, who moved to 4-0 after walloping Pharr North Friday. EHS will get back to business and prepare for the 1-3 Bears after Coach J.J. Leija’s team finished third in its zone, ahead of North. The Cougars (2-3) will battle 3-3 Pharr North in the Zone Playoffs, seeking to reverse the regular season encounter between the two, captured by the Raiders, 20-14 in Edinburg Oct. 29. Econ wrapped up a disappointing 0-5 season with a 40-0 loss to the Bears Friday and will sit out the reconfigured playoffs. In this abbreviated, asterisk-ridden campaign, the Jags finished winless for only the second time in school history; the other was in 2011.
Mission is back in the playoffs for the third consecutive season under Coach Koy Detmer, the Valley legend who starred for Colorado in college at QB and then enjoyed a lengthy NFL career. Detmer has led his alma mater to 20 wins in 26 games the past three campaigns, though the Eagles dropped out in bi-district (2018 and 2019) losing to Laredo United both times.