August 27, 2021
By Greg SelberSelect Game Gallery
They could have cratered in the early going, amid a rush from McAllen High and several mistakes of their own. But they didn’t. Down 14-0 in the third, having come close only to be denied, they might have faltered, lost poise and confidence. But they didn’t. And at the end, on the low side of a 14-6 final count despite being so near the possible tying score, they could have made excuses. But they didn’t.
No, the Bobcats never stopped battling against the Bulldogs Friday, and even though they made errors in execution and failed to cash in a few prime chances, they played like their coach wanted them to play. The way Rene Guzman used to play, when he was a Bobcat. And that’s why he got the team together after a tense and competitive season opener, telling them what he thought. Just like his coach, Richard Flores, used to do.
“Hey, it’s hard to win when you make too many mistakes,” Guzman began as the ‘Cats gathered around, still stinging from having had their golden opportunities go begging. “But you keep your heads up, we have nothing be ashamed of. Keep believing and learn from this. That’s football. Let me tell ya something … we didn’t lose tonight … we just ran out of time.”
The kids listened intently, just as they’ve done from the first day Guzman took over the Bobcat helm.
“We’ll get better, we’ll get back to work and we’ll get better,” he promised, in a voice mixed with slight disappointment and definite determination. “There’s a reason you wear the red and blue, remember that!”
Before the first outing with his alma mater, and the 1,000th game in the long and storied history of one of the Valley’s OG’s – against another one, McAllen, btw – the long-time Weslaco East assistant Guzman said that he was blessed to be here in his hometown, and that the team was blessed to be able to come out and play. After all, Weslaco and Donna did not get the go-ahead for the first week of the season.
As the teams warmed up Friday and in streamed what would be a very large crowd all things considered, the ‘Cats glanced down the field and saw a mammoth looking group from McAllen, dressed in gold and white with a splash of purple, total LSU remix. Guzman was ready to follow in the traces of the greats who have gone before, including Flores, his high school coach and obviously the stadium’s namesake. And he went out with his club and engaged in a tight, physical brawl that would have been familiar in style to the 1940, 1960, or 1980 versions of this longstanding rivalry.
After a very troubled start, EHS rallied, overcoming adversity via a defensive touchdown in the third period and driving deep into Bulldog territory twice, ending the night with what any coach might ask for, one last chance to save the day. Though they suffered an interception within the final minute to close the deal to the negative, the effort has to be considered a positive, especially if one is playing the Long Game, versus the short-term gratification variety.
“We learned a lot tonight, we really did,” Guzman said afterward. “We had to play from behind and we made too many mistakes, we gave them the short field too much and I would say that we did it to ourselves. We are going to watch the film and correct, that’s what always happens, and we’ll learn more from doing it.
“I think we stayed scrappy the whole game, which has always been indicative of this program; I’m proud of them for that. We could make excuses, we only had one scrimmage, etc., but we won’t do that. We are going to hold onto the ball better, eliminate mistakes, and get back to work. We’re glad to be back, I’m blessed to be here, and we cannot wait to get back at it as soon as we can.”
The banners were out, the spirits high for this one but for the opening minutes, a bit of a hitch in the get-along. EHS gifted the Bulldogs a prime chance after a poor rugby style punt went all of five yards, and for a second it seemed like Thursday again, when North jumped all over visiting P-SJ-A Memorial when the kicking game betrayed the Wolverines. But a day later, EHS did not blink, holding Memorial out when junior lineman Jordan Ayala alertly hopped on a loose ball at his own 29. Granted the reprieve, the ‘Cats could not move it and again had issues with the punt, this one for just 13 yards. That aspect of the game got better, in time.
Luckily, McAllen, coached by Patrick Shelby, the talented and personable former Vela assistant, was experiencing its own technical difficulties, and a holding penalty put the kibosh on its second chance.
Sometimes when one team fails to take advantage of an opening, the other will take heart and start to come on. This team was not EHS still, however, as two motion calls and a hold stalled its next try. This was, after all, August; as Guzman said, in 2021 nobody has enjoyed the usual two-scrimmage routine, so there were bound to be fits and starts across the grid land, from Starr County to Willacy. And so there were.
The Mac was first to draw real blood in the opener, slicing downfield to take a 7-0 lead in the second period on a backside screen pass that caught the EHS D out of sorts. Next, Shelby’s band drove again, this time missing a field goal and though they were enjoying the run of play, to borrow a soccer term, they had to be a little antsy about missing the pinata.
Up 7-0, it could have been more, had it not been for some well-timed moments from Guzman’s stop troops. Good linebackers have always been there for the picking at EHS, way back to the ancient times, and in 2021, there are some solid options. Juniors Edward Zuniga and Johnathan Maldonado are active in the midsection while seniors Aleksander Trevino and Jonathan Duran are equally quick and nasty. Not the biggest group in terms of size, but they will get to the ball and hit you.
It took about 20 minutes but EHS started to get it together, and ironically a fake punt midway through the second turned the trick. Guzman knows he can count on the elusive running of senior QB Rolando Abrego, who would eventually pick up a game-high 89 yards on 18 carries. With prospect Abraham Gonzalez still working his way back from injury, shifty little Noel Serna handled the chores as feature back, finding the going rough but coming up large with an 8-yard scamper out of punt formation. The spirit picked up noticeably now; the kids had been yearning, waiting for a spark and so were the fans, and here it was.
EHS rolled into McAllen green space and broke off a great 18-yard run, only to lose the ball inside the Bulldog 10. As they came off the field, Guzman was there to commiserate with his O, and in the beginning stages the coach appears to have an authentic connection with his guys. Very good thing.
Having pinned McAllen back inside its 10, the ‘Cats were looking to turn it over and get in. But the ‘Dogs produced a sledgehammer in the manner of a long pass that the receiver hauled in 30 yards downfield, sprinting the rest of the way for a shock of a 95-yard scoring play.
Nonetheless, EHS refused to quit. Late in the quarter the ‘Cats stirred again, getting five first downs with the veteran Abrego completing a slick one on third down to senior Christian Ramirez. But the club ran out of steam at the 30, turning it over on downs.
Came the half, 14-0 McAllen, but the Bobcats were undaunted. They jogged into the lockers intent on making their new coach’s debut a success. And they would come to within inches of that prize in the next 24 minutes.
STILL OUT THERE TO TAKE
Besides a slew of penalties for illegal motion, one of the drawbacks for the night for EHS was a tendency to drop passes. Abrego ended 15 of 28 for 95 yards, but he suffered through six occasions when his delivery was there, only to go awry.
This was the problem with the first drive of the third. After the defense forced a punt, junior safety Ramon Vazquez coming up to lay down the law, EHS was near midfield before the dropsies stunted the progress. Keep battling.
McHigh went through its own trials, clipping on the subsequent punt return and getting sent back deep into its own half. A holding flag then made things worse – or better from the local angle – and then came the sort of moment the ‘Cats were looking for. On Mac action to the right, Yael Herrera zoomed over and jarred the ball free and a mad scramble ensued inside the Bulldog 10. Duran, perhaps the most seasoned of the defensive kids, got on it and tumbled through massive, confusing traffic of red/blue and purple/gold, to dive into the end zone at 7:05 of the quarter. (!)
A mass of joy exploded on the home side and rightly so. Seemingly down, the ‘Cats had risen, and one recalls that back in the Flores glory days, the defense was always at the fore of the success for the Team of the Eighties. That and some absolutely enormous lines.
The visitor was rattled, EHS jamming, and after Guzman’s gang held on downs the ‘Cats took off on what looked to be the tying drive, though they had missed the extra point after Duran’s score. Gonzalez entered the fray now and rushed three times for 16 yards to get his mates moving. Abrego whipped short flips to senior Edwin Muniz and Ramirez and there went the offense, McAllen tiring and worrying. However, two motion penalties and a hold were detrimental to the health of the comeback. The illegal use of hands came at the 17 and when Abrego ran for eight and tossed to Ramirez for eight more, two key snaps ensued. On the first the ‘Cats were held to a yard and the next, fourth and short, did not gain the first down as the fourth quarter began.
The Mac ground out one first down but was forced to punt, with Vazquez seemingly everywhere and junior DB Derek Galindo making two stops. The D is loaded with juniors. Good ones.
At 7:28, the ‘Cats regained possession and moved swiftly to three first downs, two on roughing-the-passer personal fouls. They reached the Bulldog 42 when a key sack derailed the effort and as stated, in the waning seconds they got it back one more time, to no avail. On the last Mac drive, gutty Raul Gudino had cracked the ball out of a runner’s hands, and if EHS had gotten the turnover, well, you know. They did not get it, and the game soon came to an end, the Bobcats having shown the resilience their coach wanted, and the spirit he demands of them, as Bobcat coaches always have, from A.M. Weir in the 1920s to the estimable man Guzman replaced, fellow alum J.J. Leija.
For the night, Edinburg ran for 141 yards, passed for 95, and held McAllen to eight first downs carved from 52 rushing yards (on 33 trips, less than two yards per try) and 175 passing yards, 95 on one devastating snap. EHS turned it over thrice, Mac twice.
But those are numbers.
The fact is, EHS started 0-1 under a new coach, Rene Guzman, they worked their tails off and slugged it out the whole way, almost coming good under the bright lights. The more vital fact is, they played like Bobcats, for an ex Bobcat, so amid the miscues and the missed opportunities – that’s football, as Guzman says – the vibe was puro Bobcat. No doubt about it. Where you at, Bobcats? Right here, baby! Here we go!