September 24, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
Halftime had arrived but a handful of North players did not take the customary jog into the lockers. They remained on the bench for a minute or two, apparently unaware that the first half had concluded. One could not blame them really, because they had to have been decidedly dizzy after what had just gone down.
In a tidal wave of epic proportions, Vela had slammed its way to 21 points in the final four minutes of the half, and its group trotted off the field ahead 42-12. The SaberCats all told put 28 points on the board in the lightning period, after the Cougars had fought their way to within 2 at 14-12 late in the first. But a few moments went against them at the terribly wrong time, and they learned the Eternal Lesson once again: turn your back for a second, blink just once, and the SaberCats will be all over you like a pair of pants.
Rebounding from an uncharacteristic series of sloppy plays, Vela totally reversed the mojo that North had painstakingly constructed, and was soon on its way to resounding 63-12 victory that makes the Sabes 3-0 in District and 5-0 overall heading into next week’s Rivalry tussle with EHS; the Bobcats are is also unscathed in 31-6A at 3-0 after pounding Mission Thursday.
North coach Damian Gonzalez noted before this one began that the Coogs, who would drop to 1-2, 2-3, had the makings of a great ball club; they just needed to continue learning how to win, how to perform in the big ones. North had dropped a couple earlier in the season, at Mercedes and down at Hidalgo against Mission, but had played well enough to win each before some untimely mistakes. Growing painage.
On this night, the Coogs certainly appeared to be climbing up the learning curve. They survived an early 14-0 deficit and battled back, getting some terrific throws from senior QB Medrano, the gift of a safety when a Vela punt snap sailed through the end zone for a safety, and as stated, pulling to within a deuce with a 22-yard touchdown pass from senior Evan Medrano to Jaycen Rosales with just 0:44 remaining in the first.
This was the punch in the mouth that Gonzales had hoped his kids could inflict on the mighty Sabes and right now, it was looking promising. Bruising tackle Trebor Acuna had barreled in to collapse Vela QB Chase Campbell earlier in the quarter, causing what was initially thought to be a fumble but was later amended into an incomplete and intentional grounding penalty.
Quite the underdog coming in, North was living the Life of Riley just about then, and went on to get the safety, along with an earlier field goal, and then the bomb to Rosales.
But then, the SaberCats wiped a bit of blood off their chops and got down to business.
And it was Game Over, just like that.
On his way to a career-high 245 yards passing, Campbell was signally magnificent, tossing four touchdown passes as Vela flipped the script from a statistical standpoint. In four wins to start the latest campaign, John Campbell’s offense had run for 223 yards, thrown for 142 on average, but against North, the strong-armed senior got a chance to showcase his rocket, leading the attack to 267 passing yards (some late work from Bobby Garcia helped) while the ground game collected 147 Friday. Balance of a different sort, balance nonetheless.
An offense that gathers in 63 points has to be lauded for sure, but once again the defense was massive for the New Cats, limiting North to a total of 127 yards, or six and a foot or so better than its glittering yield mark coming in. The Coogs completed passes for 51, 31, and 22 yards but also suffered through 12 other snaps with negative net. They had but two rushes for more than 10 yards and as a result of several poor snaps from center ended the night with a miserable 2 rushing yards on 33 carries. Two.
Conversely, Vela produced 11 plays of at least 10 yards and endured just three snaps all night with negative gain. Played downhill, North up it.
The victory means that Vela has captured the last six contests with North, after the Coogs claimed the first two matches. In those six wins, the Sabes have outscored North by the whopping count of 305 to 74, and Friday – despite the fact that they received a good lick or two after going up 14-0 – was more of the same.
The Coogs put themselves behind the eight ball now, at 1-2, and will have to regroup around team leader Acuna and other veterans to get ready for the next skirmish, which comes on the road Friday at Pharr North, which was idle on the bye week this time after winning three of its first four 2022 encounters. The Raiders are 1-1 in 31-6A and this upcoming contest will see one unit rising, the other subsiding, in terms of playoff chances.
WHAT IS TO BE …
The question was, as the game dawned on a lovely September evening: could North hang with Vela, and have a chance to break the stranglehold the Sabes have had on their city foes for the past five seasons?
The answer seemed forthcoming when Campbell’s clan marched to a touchdown on its first drive, a 6-yard run from Ryan Clough pushing the first margin, 7-0 at 7:45 of the first. And it seemed a foregone conclusion when that big-play brother, Justin Navarro, stepped in front of a Coog pass and motored 26 yards into the end zone shortly after, at 6:23.
This is the exact thing the underdog had tried to avoid: a slow start with a mistake, which against Vela usually means a quick start and a bum rush blowout.
However, the Coogs were not too unduly belabored by this potential disaster, as Medrano fired a long one to Marco Guerrero, good for 51 yards. Medrano came in with some gaudy numbers, 845 yards passing in four nights with nine TD’s and only one pick. His strike to Guerrero set the club up, but after reaching a first and goal at the Vela 2, back-to-back running plays went nowhere. A third down fade route to 6-6 wideout Richard Ruiz did not work, as senior Miguel Ibarra did enough. Yahir Trejo came on to pound a short field goal through the uprights at 3:03.
Soon after came the Acuna sack/fumble/penalty and the oops! safety – preceded by a delay of game infraction that sent the Vela coaches into apoplectic mode – making it 14-5. After the obligatory free kick, North came back again as Medrano found leading light Yahir Rodriguez (20 yards per catch this season) for 31 yards before the looping TD ball to Rosales. This game had gone from over to on in a heartbeat. But Rodriguez was to shortly thereafter suffer an ankle injury and be knocked out of action.
Enter Campbell to the fray and he now operated with skill and poise, locating Teddy Galvan for 17 on the wheel route out of the backfield, after he’d fired a key bullet to P.J. Rivera on the sideline that converted a third and 8. Money toss, they had to have it, and he delivered. The drive that got Vela going ended when Campbell rifled a spiral to a racing Justin Vega, who gathered it in while in stride for a 39-yard six-pointer at 10:27 of the second. Chase was FIRE.
Now the ground started to shift under North feet, thanks in part to another Sabe who was blazing. Jake Dufner, on his way to perhaps his finest game so far with 11 tackles, a blocked punt, and several outstanding Conan the Barbarian celebrations, keyed a defensive sequence that forced a punt. Lanky end Gavin Coca also turned in a super stop and here began the North travails. The Coogs could not get a snap Friday, had very much difficulty when punting, and their return game went through some down moments as well. Against a special team expert like Vela, that’s asking for trouble.
A weak punt from the Old Gold gave the Blue and Black possession near midfield, but from there it was Fabian Gonzalez with a big stop, Federico Cappadona with slick pass defense: result, a Vela punt. But the Coogs let the kick bounce at the 20 or so and it rolled all the way to the 3 before being touched. Must.catch.punt.
Dufner and Ian Nova led a tackle for loss back to the 1 and North had to punt again, with the Sabes grinning from ear to ear while starting their work at the Coog 23. In four plays it was 28-12 with runs from Jamal Polley and Matt Lopez moving the chains, Lopez gashing in from the 3 at 4:50.
OK, here was the deal: North had to recover or it was surely curtains. Problem is, Vela seems to smell blood in the water like a marauding hammerhead, historically speaking anyway. Dufner and linemate Joshua Gallegos continued their unit’s domination up front with a sack on North’s next possession, leading to a 22-yard punt.
From the 43 of the enemy, Campbell was airtight, finding Vega for 10 and Rivera for 8 before unleashing the prettiest pass one may ever see, an arching gem to Vega, who had deftly run a corner route. As he slipped out of bounds, Vega had the ball with him, and the TD strike was good for a 35-12 lead as the quarter melted away along with Cougar resistance. When Vela gets you, man, you stay got.
On the final action of the half – a stanza that had tilted so much after the competitive and stirring first period – Dufner again leapt into the spotlight, raging in to block a Coog punt and give the offense one more chance to boogie with time on the wane. This time, though, North’s Sam Cerda and Gio Gonzalez were prideful warriors on the prowl, and it became fourth and goal from the 1 with a second left. Galvan punched it in at the wire, though, and the demolition was complete, the Sabes having gone from mistake-prone moments to slivers of greatness at the drop of a helmet. Absolutely first class quarter of football, there. And it sealed once and for all the latest Rivalry Deal.
Vela was to amass more delights after the intermission, with junior Carlos Tamez steaming for receiving touchdowns from 50 and 37 yards, Garcia crashing in from the 4 late in the night. All told, Vela crunched to 21 first downs and held North to nine. Galvan rushed for 56 yards on a night when the offense went through Campbell and his pal, Vega, who grabbed six passes for 88 yards, Tamez totaling 111 on four receptions.
Besides the menacing madman that is Dufner and the highlight machine Navarro, junior LB Adrian Alvarez made the most of his minutes with six tackles, Gallegos was active all night, and senior Ryan Rodriguez made some feisty QB pressures.
The Coogs got another solid night from Cappadona (eight tackles and a credible job battling the superstar Rivera, who had six catches for 42 yards) and a sharp effort from Eduardo Gonzalez (six stops). Cerda (six also), lineman Jesus Hernandez (as well, six) and the gang had their upside, but with special teams not working and the run game non-existent, it was impossible to contain the Sabes for long, given the field position situation, Vela all the way.
It remains to be seen what the effect of this sudden beatdown will be on Gonzalez’ club, but there’s a reason that many observers around the Valley pigskin scene are wary of the Coogs these days. They have a legitimate shot to rebound and set off on a winning streak, reaching the postseason once again.
It all depends on what Saturday morning was like, and the days that follow.
If Acuna, Medrano and other stalwarts can pilot their pals out of this nightmarish scenario into the clear air of what comes next, North will surely be right there when it’s all said and done, scrapping for a piece of the postseason rock. They just found themselves on the ouchy end of a vintage Vela Special Friday night, a series of blows that would have KO’d just about any team you care to name. The Coogs hesitated for a second, and often that’s all it takes against the Valley’s No. 1 team. It will deal you dirty death, without blinking an eye.