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THE RIGHT MINDSET: EHS MANHANDLES MISSION 34-14 IN BATTLE OF 31-6A CONTENDERS

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September 23, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for select game photos

It was supposed to be a real Battle Royale, this one, pitting a Mission group on the upsurge the past few seasons against a Bobcat squad that had won two in a row after an 0-2 start, though both victories had come against slightly lesser grebes on the lake. Everyone expected a one-score result, probably, a four-quarter war with little margin for error between the two teams.

What they got, of course, was a dominant performance from the Bobcats, a 34-14 thrashing that seems equal only in terms of total yardage, as the Eagles ended up with a smidge over 300 on offense, much of that after the outcome had been firmly decided.

For the vast measure of Thursday’s clash at Richard R. Flores Stadium, Coach Rene Guzman’s ball club was sharp in all phases, clean as a whistle in terms of penalties, and ascendant in the special teams category. It all added up to a splendid victory, as EHS is now 3-0 in district, after wins against Juarez-Lincoln and Econ led to a much tougher muster with Mission.

The Eagles, now 2-1 in league, had topped La Joya and Edinburg North to start the slate, after splitting a pair in non-district (Beat Mission Vets by 1, lost to Weslaco by 3) and appeared to present an enormous obstacle for the Red and Blue as the campaign reached the halfway mark.

Honestly, not so much.

When an initial and energetic Mission drive spelled trouble for the ‘Cats, the defense came up with a big stop near the Red Zone, the pass rush turning the tide and forcing a turnover on downs. EHS then drove for a field goal, upped the lead to 17-0 by the half, and cruised to its third consecutive victory, going away.

“We have been stressing that we need to play a full four quarters, all good,” Guzman said after the win – and after he got to take some photos with a full family contingent on a happy night. “We did about three quarters and a half tonight, and I want the kids to enjoy this … for 24 hours. Then it’s back to work and trying to get to that all four quarters we are after. We can’t be satisfied, even though this was a really solid game.”

Guzman plans to model that sort of mentality for the kids, as he and his staff have done since Day One.

“I’m the type, well, I’ll never be satisfied,” he admitted. “You show me the film and there can be a lot of good things, and I’ll be happy. But I will also focus on one play, just one, where we didn’t do what we should have … and I will think, ‘We can be better.’”


CAN WE DO THIS?

Everyone remembers how scary Mission was last year, as the hard-nosed Eagles competed for the league title under program legend Koy Detmer, now at Somerset. The program retooled under new leadership and all samples from 2021 revealed that once again it would be salty. And after the Eagles defeated North last week, the scene was set for what was expected to be a stern test for the Bobcats, who are seeking to get back into the postseason after a few years on the outside looking in. This was a huge exam, then.

And as it began, Mission looked surely capable, finding running room to spare in marching downfield to the Edinburg 26 on the opening series. But then, rangy QB Kevin Guerra, who passed for more than 300 yards in the North win, ran into a fast and determined EHS rush. Senior Aleksander Trevino pressured Guerra into an incomplete and on the next snap it was quickster Jordan Ayala harrying him to throw wide of the mark. Junior End Edward Zuniga was in line now, and on third down he rushed in to gum up the works, another INC. On fourth, seniors Yael Herrera and Rhyan Gudino were on the spot, trapping Guerra for a sack and capping a monumental opening statement by the so-called underdog.

Now the ‘Cats went to work on the offensive part of the statement and junior Jacob Gonzalez got the journey off to a fine start with a 29-yard burst into Mission territory. EHS moved steadily until the Mission stoppers stiffened, forcing a 23-yard field goal from senior Joseph Sanchez at 2:19 of the opening period. Sanchez has turned into a consistent threat for EHS, an accurate booter who also punts and does part-time duty on the interior lines.

Down 3-0, Mission got going again after the kickoff, churning out two first downs and reaching the EHS 48 before a penalty flag fell. Then Zuniga (10 tackles Thursday) rang the bell twice; he and Ayala combined for a minus-1 on third down, after the firm of Zuniga and Herrera had laid down the law for a nine-yard loss on first down.

That would be the extent of the Mission charge in the first half, as Guzman’s crew now took charge in earnest. Noel Serna bolted for 20 yards to start the drive after the punt and senior Rolando Abrego carried for 34 total yards on several exciting scampers, leading to a 1-yard slam from senior linebacker Jonathan Duran, at 4:19 of the second. Duran lost his helmet on the play but bashed in anyway, racing off the field, hatless and with the ball, the student section serenading him with peals of glee. An odd and exhilarating sequence, though Duran was to join Trevino on the side in time, a slight thigh contusion for each.

Having taken a 10-0 advantage, EHS then benefited from a turnover by suddenly shaky Mission, as Ayala was first to a loose ball at the Eagle 29. Though the ‘Cats were nearly error-free Thursday they did jump offside now, and the drive stumbled to fourth and 12 from the 31. But Abrego was equal to the mountain, floating patiently out of the pocket under pressure and finding safety valve Gonzalez in the flat, starting a 31-yard catch-and-run score at 2:21. To those looking for a Key Juncture, this was certainly one, as EHS cashed in a turnover, on fourth and long no less. This sequence, combined with the early stop on Mission’s first possession, was vital.

YES, WE CAN

The second half would be more evenly fought, as the Bobcats (216 yards in the first half) slowed the push down somewhat and the Eagles came more to life. But once again, the giveaway/takeaway table weighed in, and EHS was in the black there. Each team punted once to start the third and when the ‘Cats kicked away a second time versus a more intense Mission D, there was a fumble. Down came Gonzalez the running back to corral the ball at the Eagle 39.

Senior Dylan Garza ran for 15 on the Jet Sweep and then Abrego (132 yards rushing, 116 passing) dashed in from the 24 for a 24-0 advantage. The Jet was good to Edinburg Thursday, especially back in the first half when first junior Raul Ramirez and then Garza had converted third down snaps into firsts on the march that established a 10-0 lead. When it goes well, the play allows a speedy handoff-and-cut routine that can be hard to contain. When it doesn’t, it can be a minus-5 in a hurry. Gotta happen fast.

At any rate, now up 24-0, the ‘Cats were blasted back into reality by a solid Mission TD drive with Guerra running and passing equally well. The QB’s 16-yard run made it 24-7 at 3:24 and for the first time all night, the Eagle rooters were stirring from their dusty nest.

This was Key Juncture Three. Still plenty of time for a drastic change of momentum, a dangerous foe waiting to get the ball back, maybe some jitters for the home side.

Again, honestly, no.

A key pass from Abrego to senior Christian Ramirez went just eight yards, but it meant first down for the ‘Cats and not a punt back to a rising Mission O. Dale gas. From there, Abrego’s 14-yard gain followed by a 29-yard connection to Christian Ramirez (hey, these guys 8 and 11 related? You know!) set up the QB’s unchallenged waltz in for six at the 11:30 mark of the fourth. Right then and there, the die was cast, Edinburg had answered when Mission came calling. Game over.

In the fourth, the defense continued to battle with the Eagles, who would move to a touchdown late in the night. But Sanchez came on to clout a 37-yard field goal to aid the effort, and EHS ran to the tape for a 3-0 record in district. Gonzalez and Serna combined for 95 yards rushing Thursday while the Ramirez Boys hauled in five balls between them.

Defensively, Ayala had 10 stops and the fumble recovery; he and Herrera (seven tackles) week by week are appearing on flanks near you, showing their speed with a number of hits way outside the box. Gudino, too was outstanding in the victory, with 11 tackles, a couple of pass defenses, and a few rocky hits on Mission runners. Junior LB Johnathan Maldonado brought his hard hat and lunch pail to the fray, and his lunchbox contained 12 solid tackles.

This week’s special teams standout, besides kicker Sanchez, was junior Derrick Galindo, who raced down on the cover team to notch four tackles. For the O-line, junior tackle Alessandro Escobedo was a force with a pair of crushing blocks.

Having surrendered just 23 points through three league tilts, the ‘Cats now turn their attention to the Ultimate Challenge, against Vela Friday. But first to savor the most important result in Year One of the Guzman Era.

Abrego said that his team was fired up to get some paybacks on the Eagles.

“We had that up on the board all week, 56-7, and that motivated us,” he said. “After what they did to us last year, we wanted some revenge and we got it.”

Guzman praised the play of his group in the return match, saying the defensive pressure was excellent and the offense was aggressive in attack.

“I have to really give credit to the staff, they are doing a great job with the kids,” he said. “I trust the guys we have; they’re awesome coaches and they work their butts off to help us be successful.”

He also mentioned the recent past at EHS, a situation about which one needs no real re-remind.

“This program means a lot to me, because I played here and so it hurts when people bring up what happened last year,” he admitted. “But really, we use it as a lesson for the kids, we talk about it, we have to. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind you? We ask our guys that all the time, we talk about the tradition here, Bobcat Pride.”

Guzman says the mindset of his team is clicking into the right pattern now.

“I am ecstatic about tonight, because it was a real barometer for us, to show how far we have come,” he explained. “You never know how the kids are going to react to being in a pressure game against a tough opponent. They proved their resilience after we lost those two games to start the season. They were frustrated because they knew we could have won but we shot ourselves in the foot. But they kept working, and now they are getting the right mindset we need to go forward.

“I’m happy for them, it makes me feel good to see the kids smiling after such a good win.”

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