Dec. 3, 2020
By Greg Selber
The game was … it was … well …
CANNOT DO IT.
Here is the story, expurgated for reasons of taste:
Despite some formidable obstacles at home Thursday night, the Edinburg Bobcats lived up to their long-time reputation as a program with moxie and pride, a never-say-die attitude that developed in ancient times under the venerable Bobby Cannon in the 1930s and 1940s, and continued under the tutelage of the great Richard Flores, and now is present with Flores protégé J.J. Leija.
It’s all about the comeback, how one responds to adversity, and against P-SJ-A in the Zone Playoffs, the crew called upon Bobcat Pride to advance to the postseason and show what they are made of. After losing their talisman athlete to an ejection in the second period – amid a bizarre and disturbing scene that no doubt millions have now rubber-necked on ubiquitous and unforgiving social media – the Bobcats could have cratered.
But they didn’t. instead, they shut down the Bears in the second half, allowing them just three first downs and salting away a 35-21 win that made them 3-2 in preparation for a bi-district date with the Harlingen Cardinals or the San Benito Greyhounds.
Rather than fall victim to more unseemly ugliness, EHS got back to being classy, as senior Shandon Woodard rushed for 117 of his 125 yards after halftime, classmate Rolando Abrego passed for a career-high 196 yards, and the defensive unit regrouped behind veterans Diego Flores and Angel Sanchez.
Much angst and no little schadenfreude will be spent in the coming days over this one, but let us instead focus on other matters. An executive decision, of sorts.
It looked like a shootout early on as the teams combined for 50 points in the first half, the Bears passing for 204 yards and the Bobcats using more balance to churn out an even 200. The EHS staff gets gold stars for the decision to turn Abrego loose Thursday, eschewing the normally close-to-the-vest play script to toss screens and let the speedy senior QB read and run on his own accord. While he had passed for a pedestrian 268 yards in four previous games, the lean senior erupted against the Bears, completing 14 passes and finding very much success with not only screens but long crossing routes; Christian Ramirez, a newcomer to the lineup, would catch four balls for 114 yards in the Zone Playoffs and his 37-yard gain set the ‘Cats up for their first score, at 5:46 of the first. After the Bears had used a 40-yard pass to roll downfield and take a 7-0 lead, Leija’s bunch drove 83 yards in 10 plays, Abrego converting a third-and-three snap with a quick burst on the ground, and later flipping a 6-yard screen to Woodard for the six.
Next the Red and Blue grabbed field position by posting two of its five sacks for the night and started a possession at the Bear 49.
In four plays the ‘Cats had the lead, providing a harbinger of their ability to outdistance adversity. After a TD pass to junior Dylan Garza was nullified by penalty, the team then did it again second hence, getting a 39-yard strike from Abrego to Ramirez at 0:31 of a frenetic first stanza. Still, the Bears were feeling their oats in the air, and countered with a 60-yard pass on the final play of the quarter to re-tie it at 14s. Say what one will about the body of work in 2020 of these two mid-table sides: the first quarter was terrific high school football.
The second would not be that, but it would be played.
The bang-bang ejection and madness happened midway through the quarter, leaving the crowd and the kids stunned and somewhat numb. But onward went the class.
P-SJ-A moved into the Red Zone until a timely sack from the trusty Flores – who along with end Juan Garza is adept at playing technique and holding ground – and when the D forced a punt, a solid return and a personal foul on Los Osos set the O up at the enemy 10. Two plays down the road Abrego was in for a 7-point bulge at 8:20 of the second. The ‘Cats went ahead 29-14 after engineering another short field, Abrego making a tremendous scramble of 25 yards which he finished with a dive to the pilon at 2:03. Rolly had fire game Thursday, man.
Of course, P-SJ-A was not so easy to dismiss, and right then the Bears ripped off another long passing gain which led to a score right before the half, 29-21 Bobcats. And as the teams trotted off for the intermission, the air was slightly unreal, the mood somewhere between bemusement and horror, if there is such a happy medium. The harried police had dispersed, as well.
Faced with a real challenge at home, in more ways than one, the kids came back out and returned the focus to football.
On their second possession of the third quarter, the ‘Cats moved smartly, with a 22-yard catch by Ramirez (the deep middle was wide open all night, clear as an azure sky) producing a 35-yard paydirt run from Woodard. The burly senior, stymied by land but not by air in the first half (three receptions) had begun to find cracks in the defense behind a hard-laboring line that has improved by the week in 2020. A P-SJ-A defender tried to tackle No. 32 up high, which is always a problematic decision, and Woodard calmly yet firmly shook him off en route to the end zone at 5:34 of the period. With Flores leading the charge, EHS then forced a Bear punt
Unable to move it, the home side had to kick but it was blocked and all of a sudden, the Bears were at the EHS 9 and the comfortable lead was feeling mighty uncomfortable.
Here is when the Bobcats proved their mettle, stopping P-SJ-A on a fourth-down plunge from the 1. Junior LB Aven Alonzo made two key tackles on the series and somehow the front four stuffed the last attempt from point blank. This was, forget Twitter, the Key Juncture of the night, at least from a pigskin perspective. If the Bears get that six, it’s on.
They did not, it was not, and after subsequent interceptions by Alonzo and Andre Vargas, plus a sack from the crafty Garza, EHS had withstood the charge of the Bears, and had grappled with the gravity of the evening, regrouping to perform its duty.
Now for the postscript. When they trundled off the green Thursday night, the Bobcats figured that they had passed into the air of the playoffs, courtesy of a 14-point win over the Bears. In doing so, they had made the most of a difficult situation, the absence of one of the greatest players in school history, which turned the Next Man Up bromide into a reality once again. Senior Oscar Cruz made five tackles on defense and filling in as punter, overcame the blocked effort to get the next several kicks away in good shape. Same for senior Sergio Perez, who assumed the kicking chores and acquitted himself well.
All over the field, kids were stepping up to fill the gaps of indecision forced upon them by the actions that had transpired. And they came through, just like the EHS teams of old, who were generally long on character even when in some years perhaps not as replete with talent.
Yes, they passed the courage and character exam, and yet the next morning would reveal another.
Here is the bombshell:
Statement To The Media Regarding Incident At Football Game On Dec. 3, 2020
“The district has decided to remove the Edinburg High School football team from the playoffs after an unexpected incident involving a student that occurred during a football game on December 3, 2020. We extend a sincere apology to the referee and his family. On behalf of the Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees and administration, we apologize to the athletes, staff, and our school community.
We will take the appropriate disciplinary action once we understand the facts and circumstances underlining this incident. The district takes these matters very seriously; however, we cannot comment further on a pending investigation.”
Edinburg CISD Administration
SORTING IT OUT
Now, some people will carp on the side, as folks are wont to do, about the injustice of the entire program being punished for the transgressions of the One. And The Observer supposes that perhaps they have a point, though he does not quite concur.
Because, on the other hand, if we truly believe that high school football is more than just a game, not just entertainment and an opportunity to preen for parents and cheerleaders, but instead a combination platter with equal helpings levity, libido, and lessons, then this is just.
“Just” in the sense that we realize that such egregious misconduct has gone beyond the pale and must be addressed more harshly than with a yellow penalty flag or a quick, platitude-inflected lecture about sportsmanship. “Just” in the sense that if the kids and coaches are to take any long-term teaching from this debacle – aside from the technological fact that the world is invariable connected now in an instant, “Like” it or not – it is this: teamwork matters and so does decorum. One will be held accountable for one’s actions regardless of the backstory, explanations and justifications, the extenuating circumstances that may well have led up to the behavior in question. And the entire program will be held thus, there being no other authentic way to teach the wisdom of teamwork to the end.
So while forfeiting the game – read: season – will be a desperately bitter blow for EHS, the seniors especially, the logic behind this decision is no doubt the correct one. Forget about public relations and liability, which admittedly play a bit role in this drama but a role nonetheless. The decision to pay the price by the district is, in its more optimistic, less cynical interpretation, about a message. And the message is this: We are Edinburg, and we have pride in what we do and how we do it. We are not a wild and lawless outpost on the border where crazy things always happen. We’re good people and we work our tails off to be successful. And often we do it.
And at the end of the proverbial day, we are a community that can err but can also, without flinching, recognize mistakes, own them in a collective sense, and move onward, acting with the identity and experience of many seasons of excellence, on and off the field. We are Edinburg, and we own this mistake. Doing so will not detract from Bobcat Pride, or from the community spirit that has made this town a special sporting place for 100 years or more. Perhaps it will add to it.
And last but not least, though we deplore the incident, and momentary black eye on the civic face, we do not deplore the people involved, none of them. We earnestly wish for a comeback, from the football Bobcats of 2021 and their special cast of mainly homegrown coaches. We also wish the best for the young person who has committed a grievous error in judgment. And anyone who does not wish these two things … you didn’t get the memo, my brother.
Helplessly, The Observer watched as a bright future potentially went up into destructive flames. And inwardly, he wept.