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AROUND THE PITCH: MOST CITY SIDES ALIVE AND WELL AS STRETCH RUN APPROACHES

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Feb. 27, 2021

By Greg Selber

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Because it’s March, here is climax time in football, with the regular season winding down quickly and the postseason rapidly approaching. At least this has been the case every year except 2020, but whatever. Fact is, no fewer than seven of the eight city sides were entertaining serious Second Season hopes as the week’s fixture list ran its course Saturday. And the oddest fact about that fact is the only team that appears to be eliminated – and it’s way tougher right now to ascertain with precision the league table for several reasons – is Econ. The boys. So there you go, the weirdness continues everywhere one looks.

Having gotten back into the District 31-6A race with a three-match winning streak the Jags – the most persistently successful school in town – have since lost four and drawn one, leaving them behind the eight ball with a quarter of the slate to complete. Meanwhile, EHS and North are headed for a great showdown Tuesday, with second place on the line. More about that in a minute, because it is a compelling storyline. 

First slot in the league is all but assured to that fantastic crew from Juarez-Lincoln, which smashed its way past Vela in town Saturday, 4-0. The Huskies are just too strong for the rest of the competitors, with their fancy passing, hard tackling, versatility and quickness, and ability to play out of the back. Which brings us back to North-EHS. 

That collision, set for Richard R. Flores Stadium (always double-check), will have an outsize bearing on the playoff seedings, and as everyone who follows the sport knows, opposing the Lower Valley league in bi-district is always a daunting proposition. Finishing second will ensure a marginally better shot at surviving against the No. 3 from 32-6A but again, there are five sides vying for the postseason down there, and most city coaches admit that all of them are as good as Lincoln. Ouch.

To illustrate how hard it is to make it out of the first round: outside of North’s monumental run to the final eight in 2017, and EHS’s appearance in the regional round in 2002 and 2003 – which included a regional final spot in 2003 – the winning pickings have been awful lean. North beat Gregory-Portland, 3-1 back in 1992 before losing to SA Jay, and in 2014 the Cougars eclipsed Laredo United, 2-1 and then were knocked out by Brownsville Rivera. Other than those two amazing years under Coach Serjio Elizarraraz at the turn of the century, the Bobcats have gone 0-6 in their last six playoff trips. Newest Cat Vela has made two postseason forays, in 2015 and 2016, which ended in bi-district each time.

Which brings us back to Econ. The Jags have copped seven district titles in their history, including four in a row starting in 2007, but have just six career playoff wins, in 2003 (Laredo Nixon), 2008 (Brownsville Pace), 2009 (Brownsville Hanna), 2012 (Hanna again) and more recent success versus Los Fresnos (2017 and 2018). All told, city sides are a combined 19-42 in the playoffs.

Tuesday’s clash between the Coogs and ‘Cats should be fun, after the former clipped the latter earlier in the year, 1-0. North is on a roll right now while EHS has been solid, with a few draws slowing the pace toward maximum points. Should either of those two rivals fade, Vels is waiting to take advantage.

The SaberCats came into Saturday’s action in fourth, underrated Mission and streaky P-SJ-A close behind, and the possibility of a playoff spot has not dimmed, despite the loss to Lincoln. On a windy day when the Sabes had only one sub, they hung in there against the league leader. But without stellar F Emiliano Luna, sidelined with a quad injury, it was always going to be a rough afternoon. Still, stalwarts Miguel Solis and Edgar Hernandez battled the talented Huskies well enough, while keeper Jacob Andrade had a busy day; the side may have let in four goals, but Andrade was active and aggressive, steaming off his line to try and deny the Lincoln attack, and coming up with six crisp saves in the goal mouth. He worked!

The Sabes did not lack for effort. Defender Alex ”FIFA” Benavidez put in a credible shift in the back, as part of a rebuilt Vela defense that is quite different than the one that began the season. Football kicker Job Juarez, who’s got wheels and a pesky knack for the ball, ran and ran, trying to get onto the few decent crosses and through balls that existed. Orlando Nava used his toughness and quickness to be a thorn in the Lincoln side.

Bottom line, the Sabes lost to a better team and will get back to work in preps for the biggest week of the season, coming up. They’re right there, truly, and hope to attain the postseason for the first time in five campaigns.

Americo Cortez’ Vela girls walloped Lincoln in the first stage of the doubleheader Saturday, 6-0, and have all but wrapped up the school’s first undisputed league crown. After a pleasing midweek thrashing of nemesis North, the Lady Sabes are alone at the top, and one more win, or a North stumble of any type, and the title goes to Canton. 

As with the boys, Tuesday’s EHS-North scrap will have playoff implications as those two are 2-3 right now, with Lincoln, Econ and Pharr North churning a pace behind. The Lady Jags have a shot to make it for the first time in six seasons.

While Econ has been the gold standard for city boys, North can claim that accolade for the girls, as the Lady Coogs have compiled a 13-15 lifetime record in the playoffs. Included on that solid line are four seasons in which they took two playoff victories (2000, 2001, 2007, 2012) and the magical 2008 ride that took them to the regional round following three wins. EHS has a 5-14 postseason count with its best showing coming back in 1999 when the Lady ‘Cats scored twin playoff W’s. Econ (1-4) nabbed its lone postseason success in 2015 while Vela (2-4) enjoyed both victories in the same year, 2015. Overall, city girls are 21-37 in postseason history.

The Vela girls seem to have the talent to make some history in 2021 as they have slammed in 109 goals in league play and allowed just six. Saturday brought a bit of caution with an ankle injury to leading defender Bailey Jo Gonzalez, and one hopes that the aggressive stopper will make it back into the lineup sooner than later.

Cortez and his staff have been traveling tons, motoring down south to check out the potential playoff foes to come. Given the difficulty the city has encountered historically in getting past the Brownsvilles and Harlingens, Los Fresnos too, scouting is obviously a good idea. 

Though final results remain to be seen, Harlingen looks like a possible winner down in 31-6A, but Los Fresnos has been superb as well; both are undefeated and so obviously still have to face off twice before the Dance. Two-loss Donna North is positioning as a third-place entry with a handful of games to go, while Hanna and Harlingen South are attempting to carve out their niche as Second Season entries.

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