September 17, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
Every time the date for Econ-EHS rolls around, one cannot but hope that maybe, just maybe it will happen again, just the way it did in the improbable and titanic collision of 2004. And usually, as is the case with most dreams, it doesn’t come through. Truly, the epic 57-55 multi-OT roller derby that was Jags-Bobcats 17 years ago will most likely never be approached, much less duplicated. And fine.
The latest iteration of the clash between relative rivals lying east of 281 continued a definite pattern to the series, as EHS won for a sixth straight year, following three seasons of Orange Crush (2013-15). In the beginning, the ‘Cats held serve for victories from 2000 to 2005, whereupon the Jags dominated the tilt in 2006 and 2007, only to see EHS surge to five in a row starting in 2008. No matter the uneven nature of the rivalry, its streakiness, there have always been plenty of hard hits and breakneck action to be had, even in those odd seasons when Cats Stadium was sometimes called 3 Cats Park (never really caught on, though it was catchy, some people surmised). The match was/is always fun to see.
Which brings us to 2021, and an important early trendsetter between teams seeking to gain their second win of the slate. The Jags came in looking to shake off the echoes of last week’s drubbing at the hands of North, while the ‘Cats were intent on keeping Uncle Mo in their corner after a merciless smacking of Lincoln. As has been the theme for the start of a new era at Econ, the club started with some promise, suffered through challenges in execution, and saw plans for redemption – at least for this week – scuttled by an opponent that made fewer mistakes and appeared to have a better sense re: the flow of the game.
EHS, climbing to 2-0 in District 31-6A with some serious tests on the horizon, withstood an Econ rush to post 21 second quarter markers en route to a ringing 49-9 triumph, dropping the Jags to 0-2 in league play and 1-3 overall. After the Jags drove for a field goal in the first stages of the second to pull to within 4 at 7-3, Coach Rene Guzman’s group got busy, controlling the action and zooming to a 28-3 halftime advantage. After that, they cruised.
Opening notes: the Jags took the ball for their first possession and there were jitters, as three illegal motion penalties stymied the try. Those issues continued as EHS took the ball, with two defensive offside calls giving the ‘Cats a first down without their having to go through the formality of actually running a play. From there, a 64-yard, 10-play march ensued. It was capped through a 1-yard run by senior QB Rolando Abrego, who enjoyed another night of ample output with 136 rushing yards and 107 through the air (on a smooth 9-of-13 showing).
On the score, Abrego was hit near the goal-line and tumbled in, performing a somersault and quick pop back up to his feet. Ten, says the Russian judge. He’d completed a third-and-8 pass to junior Raul Ramirez (four grabs for 58 yards) to keep the march alive and contributed jaunts of 10 and 13 yards himself to guide his guys into position. Abrego has been the lifeblood of the attack so far in 2021 with an all-around performance surely putting him into range of season-ending honors. The Bobcats look to No. 6 to run the show and this he has been doing with style during the first four bouts of the campaign.
But Sean Van de Merghel’s Jags were undaunted and set sail on a 12-play excursion, an attempt to even the score. Junior jitterbug Brandon Torres made good on a fourth down gamble by slipping between tacklers to move the sticks, and later, senior M.J. Barrientos was excellent on third and 11, finding classmate Javier Medellin downfield for a 24-yard gain on the right sideline. Medellin, in particular was in Warrior class Friday, giving everything he had to try and rally the Orange. He caught two passes, made a few speedy kick returns, rugby punted with skill, and saw numerous snaps in the defensive backfield. Medellin also spent the night exhorting his teammates to keep fighting, and one could tell by his intensity that No. 2 meant business. An inspiring display it was: leading by example and voice.
However, the EHS defense stiffened as the Jags neared tying territory, getting some key stops from down lineman Yael Herrera and junior end Jordan Ayala; those two are cat quick if not overly huge and they hustle to make plays all over the field.
Medellin knocked in a 37-yard field goal at 9:46 of the second and perhaps it was game on. The old cliché about “throw out the records” when two rivals meet is a cliché because many times it holds true.
But just when it seemed that the struggle session was on, EHS benefited on the kickoff, picking up 16 freebie yards. The Jags were offside on the boot and on the redo, EHS ended up in way better starting land: this is the sort of thing that an underdog cannot countenance if it wishes to stay in the hunt for long.
It took only four snaps for EHS to assume a 14-3 lead as Abrego found senior Christian Ramirez open in the right flat. Making a slick move on the defender, Ramirez got loose and ran 22 yards onto the end zone. He is part of a slew of fast little receivers this season for the Red and Blue, and all of them run crisp routes, find open space, and pile up decent YAC once they get the pill.
The Jags coughed it up on their next try, as EHS DB Albert Almendariz recovered a fumble, setting up a short drive; starting in the Red Zone is always a nice thing. Junior Rivers Martinez did the deed for EHS on a clever bit of strategy that paid off. Abrego took the shotgun snap and immediately looked right. Then he wheeled back to the backside and pitched a bullet to Martinez, slanting in from wide left, and the timing connection enabled the receiver to scoot unworried into the end zone at 6:24.
Now, the ‘Cats were not without their hiccups. Guzman had stated before the night began that his club was still in cleanup mode after some mistakes made in the first three ball games. The project continued well enough Friday, but EHS did have two TD’s called back because of flags. The better p.s. for them is that they nonetheless managed to eventually score on each drive.
The momentum was swinging at this juncture and Econ was going to need a lifeline to stop the slide and get on the good foot. It came in the manner of a fumble recovery midway through the second, accomplished by burly Didier Martinez, the converted running back who is doing yeoman’s work on the other side of the ball now. His takeaway ended a Bobcat chance.
Econ could not move it, though, with ‘Cat junior Edward Zuniga making two tackles and forcing a punt, giving the ‘Cats a shot at lengthening both the lead and Jag despair. Abrego found Ramirez over the middle for a substantial plus and from the enemy 20, Abrego went transcendent. On a keeper left he avoided trouble at the line with a cutback, juked his way past a defender, and then went into a pirouette that was just breathtaking, emerging from it with defenders dazed and the paydirt passage wide open.
The scintillating piece of razzmatazz sent his crowd and sideline folk into euphoria and made it 28-3 with just 59 seconds left in the half. Some day, moons from now, when Abrego is a grizzled abuelo watching his grandkids play for EHS, he can remember that acrobatic run as one of the greatest moments he ever produced for the school. Beyond bangin’!
THE DRAMA CONTINUES
The second half began with a Jag three-and-out and another penalty, whereupon EHS jumped on the opportunity, going 67 yards in 10 plays to extend the advantage to 35-3 on a 17-yard TD run by junior Jacob Gonzalez, a smashing clear-out block from junior OL Jorge Guzman the determining factor.
And the defense was still holding Econ to very little joy. On the kickoff following Gonzalez’ run, it was senior Alex Guerra down to make the stop, and this guy was a phenomenon on the special teams Friday, making four tackles and turning in two more on defensive duty in the second half. Some headhunters on the cover squad sprint down like track stars only to lose focus and/or will at the moment of truth, but Guerra looks like a natural; time and again he broke down properly as he eyed the path of the return man, making sure licks without a hitch.
Besides the first-class action from its interior line, EHS also enjoyed plenty of other creditable nights of toil. Jonathan Duran, the workhorse LB, turned in 10 tackles and energetic junior Johnathan Maldonado added seven, plus gobs of spirit and moxie. Another junior, SS Ramon Vasquez, showed a nose for the ball and ended with nine stops. The EHS D has wheels this season and its mesh/understanding as a unit is growing stronger by the week. Bros. Garza.
EHS tallied again late in the third when Noel Serna scrambled for a 28-yarder against a tiring Econ defense and for Serna it was a memorable evening. The junior scatback amassed 109 yards as the team rushed for 308 all told. He unfolded some of the spins and slips of tackle that he can make when in the groove.
In the fourth the Jags found their jam, good for a solid 13-play drive that produced the team’s only TD of the game. Martinez came on to run hard, though he did have a 30-yard burst nullified by flag on a night when Econ simply committed too many penalties to remain competitive for four quarters. Still, Torres (76 yards to lead the Jags) carried seven straight times to finally get in, from the 2 at 8:06. A play prior, Torres had been catapulted into the air and out of bounds by a pair of EHS attackers, but he survived to soon crash in for six, though again, there was a miscue on the PAT, which failed.
Late in the day, backup QB Ryen Abrego came in to pilot the squad and as he had done against Lincoln in the previous game, did well, in fact scoring the final ‘Cat TD with a short run at 2:51.
If Medellin was Man of the Match for the Jags, which he undoubtedly was, there were other bright spots. Barrientos put forth a stretch where he completed four passes in a row, and appears to be making progress in terms of read/recognition, in his return to football after several seasons away. Torres is a sparkplug with zero quit, a deceptive runner who can take a pounding and get back up ready to grind. Defensively, Tim Plata has grown into a tackling leader as a junior linebacker, while in the second half, rugged tackle Julio Cruz was outstanding, finding the runner and delivering punishment no fewer than four times in a 10-minute span.
Martinez chipped in seven tackles and soph linebacker Alfonso Escamilla (six hits) showed a willingness to come up and hit someone. Corner Josue Arredondo also stood out in the loss, giving the Jags positives to post while seeking to subdue the tendency toward penalties and get better at finishing drives with max points. Their latest opportunity to complete these tasks comes next Thursday when they travel to take on P-SJ-A. The Bears flattened Lincoln, 49-10 this week and are 2-1 right now, having lost to Pioneer by 2 in the opener and then defeated P-SJ-A Southwest. The Jags, one recalls, gained a victory against Southwest also but have surrendered 142 points in three subsequent games.
The Bobcats now sit in good shape at 2-0 and will turn their radar to Mission, after the Eagles outlasted Edinburg North in a barnburner Friday, 28-24. The Coogs came from behind to lead, only to see the Eagles slip into the end zone inside the final minute for a thrilling result down at Hidalgo. Thursday will see the Eagles at Flores for a showdown with EHS, winner of two in a row since losses to McAllen and Rivera to start. For Guzman and his team, it comes fast and furious now, as after Mission, it’s Vela and then Pharr North. Tucking away a pair of wins to start 31-6A was vital for the ‘Cats with the difficult midsection of the schedule approaching.