September 10, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for select game photos

For several seasons in the past, this one was scheduled at the end of the slate, with combatants from North and Econ often coming into the finale with something on the line, playoff-wise. In fact, before each campaign, coaches of the two programs would sooner or later, during pre-season chats, suggest that if there was one game each had to win, it was this one.

The other factor involving a Rivalry dating back to 2000 is the narrow verdict in many of these tilts. No fewer than three times the clubs had played to a one-point decision, with a two-pointer and three-pointer thrown in. And then there was the 2010 classic, when North outlasted the East Side gang for a topsy-turvy 41-34 victory.

In 2021, however Coogs-Jags arrived in the opening week of District 31-6A play and was different in another respect. It didn’t come in November and it was definitely not one of the close-run barnburners of the past either, as the Coogs blitzed the Jags Friday at Richard R. Flores Stadium, 53-0. In posting the fourth shutout of the long-running series, the Coogs (1-0 in 31-6A, 2-1 overall) amassed 401 total yards and limited the Jags (0-1, 1-2) to a measly 142, dominating from late in the first period all the way to the finish line.

In the process, North improved to 17-6 lifetime against Econ, came close to matching the series record for points scored – Econ blasted to 59 in 2004 – and beat its rival for the sixth time in a row. For the Jags, who last captured this collision back in 2015, it was a long night despite a promising beginning. For the Coogs, it was further proof that this might just end up being a banner year.

“I keep telling the kids, hey, you’re good, you’re a good team,” Coach Damian Gonzalez said after his guys had played a super all-around ball game, running for 216 yards and passing for 185, with 25 first downs. “And they’re starting to believe it. Last week we should have beaten Mercedes over there, we could have but we made too many mistakes. Tonight we were better in that respect, we did have a few little issues, but overall, it was a great effort.”

Econ came in after a 40-28 loss to Roma last week, and that home defeat had left Coach Sean Van de Merghel’s unit with some injury woes. Still, early on the Jags moved the ball well though they would fade as the lights grew brighter against the encroaching darkness.

North came out in the Empty Set with five wides, which is understandable considering that quarterback Evan Medrano has proven to be an accurate passer with excellent ability to read defenses so far during his senior season. He was to complete 12 of 19 tries Friday with two touchdowns but on North’s first drive attempted a screen into traffic that was picked off by Econ’s Josue Arredondo.

North got the ball back after a key tackle for loss from spirited corner Orlando Gonzalez forced a punt, and the Coogs dented the scoreboard for the first of many times, getting up 7-0 in four plays after a 13-yard strike from Medrano to Marco Guerrero at 1:46 of the first.

Again, Van de Merghel’s offense was solid with two first downs, but soon faced a fourth and seven at the Coog 44; here the Jags rolled the dice and came up snake eyes as DL Jesus Hernandez produced a sack to turn the ball over.

Now feeling the buzz quite well, the Coogs made it 13-0 on a 3-yard run by Mark Hernandez at 6:42 of the second, the engine snap coming early in the drive when Medrano faked a handoff inside and rose to slip a quick pass to Yahir Rodriguez (seven catches for 119 yards in a fantastic start to 2021) for 30 yards.

This was the key juncture of the night, North bursting with confidence and Econ increasingly not. The Orange would have to hustle to stay in it despite missing several defensive starters.

However, in five plays after an Econ three-and-out, North tallied again, this time on a 26-yard scamper by Chris Barrera. The two speed backs, Barrera and Hernandez, are benefiting from the complement of veteran Jean Carlo Reyes, who lined up as an H back at times Friday and has shown himself to be a punishing blocker as well as a battering ram still, when the ball is in his paws.

With the vibe tilting downhill, North took advantage of slick field position on its next possession, starting at the enemy 44 and taking just five plays to achieve a 27-0 lead. Medrano’s quick release yielded tosses of 12 yards to Guerrero and 18 yards to Hernandez, setting up a 13-yard TD ball to Rodriguez with 53 seconds left in the half.

By this time, the big, strong North line had established itself in the trenches, the backs were running crazy, and Medrano was firing away. Defensively, the Coogs were not giving up much. Feisty safety Gio Gonzales, one of three brothers on the roster this season, was to end with 13 tackles to lead the charge and a defensive backfield compadre was also on his way to a terrific game.

From the storied Cappadona lineage in town, Federico is not quite the physical specimen that his award-winning brother Justin was last season. But he is a definite force of nature nonetheless, with ferocious tackling ability, excellent speed, and something one cannot teach, and that is desire. His punt returns were a boon to the attack against Econ, plus he broke up a pair of passes and came up with nine tackles, two of them being absolute pops; this dude can rip. Cappadona would also figure in the signature sequence of the rout, later in the second half.

That half began with North driving relentlessly after the kickoff, churning 70 yards on 11 methodical plays until Barrera knifed in from the 7 to give the Coogs a 33-0 lead at 8:16. The Blue and Gold were only three for six in extra points as the special teams situation continues to challenge Gonzalez and staff.

And here, the Jags bowed up for a final message that though they may be struggling right now, they still have designs on competing for a playoff spot. Midway through the third they pinned North back at its own 12 after a punt and penalty, and junior LB Tim Plata stormed in for a sack, making North kick the football. Plata, yet another of those kids who are the latest in a family line to play the game, has been active in the first three outings, ranging far and wide and with good wheels. He registered a dozen stops Friday to headline the defensive unit and appears to be a mainstay for the next two seasons. Instinctive football player.

Late in the third, the North tidal wave finally engulfed the Orange for good, as on back-to-back possessions, the passing Jags were picked for touchdowns, extending the deficit to 45. The first theft for six came from linebacker Eduardo Molina, who rumbled down the right sideline from 45 yards out with 0:12 left.

Econ’s next drive was tantalizing with three first downs into Coog territory. But then Cappadona leapt into a crowd to take a pass away from everyone, emerging with the ball at his own 20 and setting sail down the right sideline. Running in quantum time, outdistancing one would-be tackler and erasing the angle another thought he had, Cappadona zipped unscathed into the end zone at 5:38 of the ball game. He’s a guy who plays much bigger than he seems; think of tough guy Matt Ramirez or the equally memorable Josh Ayala from back in the annals.

The final score came from young Ulysses Melendez, whose 26-yard odyssey included a smash through one tackler, an acrobatic recovery after a good lick from another, and a final surge into the end zone with 1:27 to go. The Coogs have a marvelous array of backs this season, matching the depth and quality of their receiving corps. After three nights, they have collected 107 points, or 26 less than the 2020 group posted, in seven games. The last three Econ-North bouts have been similar, early Coog KO’s to the tune of margins of 25, 36, and now 53.

The Coogs next will take on Mission, at Bill Pate Stadium in Hidalgo, because the seemingly endless construction project at Tom Landry Stadium in Mission is still, still ongoing and will be for the duration of 2021. Last year the Eagles were one of the toughest teams in the Valley and Gonzalez knows it will be a stern test.

“We needed to get this one, and start to think about Mission,” he said. “They were in the title game last year for district, and they’ve started off well this year. It’s going to be a hard game and we need to be ready. Tonight we dominated, no question, we executed well, the kids had fun playing.”

Gonzalez said that the practices leading up to Friday had only been so-so, but he was happy to see his team put that behind and come out to show what it could do.

“This is Year Four for us, everyone knows what we expect, how we want to do things, and they’re feeling good about things,” he stressed. “I think we have the chance to do all the things we want, compete for the district title, get into the playoffs, etc. Hey, we’ve also got 45 juniors on this team, too, so we’re excited to see what we can do this season, and next.”

Meanwhile Econ will regroup and attempt to make a stand next Friday against EHS, after the Bobcats wasted Juarez-Lincoln Thursday, holding the visitor to zero first downs. And every town team is keeping an eye on Vela, who completed a three-game gauntlet this week with a first-cabin 24-0 win on the road at Pharr North. The SaberCats are 1-0, 3-0 and have given up just nine points to begin 2021. The beat goes on.

Final nugget: Try and remember the last time three city teams pitched shutouts in the same week … forget it, it’s never happened before. And might never again.

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