October 16, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
LA JOYA – There was always going to be something odd about this, from the storm that washed the first attempt away Friday night to the weird, sleepy 10 a.m. start time the next morning. It these factors were not enough to introduce a splash of vertigo to the ball game, note that there would be no band or cheerleaders on hand either, as many musical outfits were preparing for the annual Pigskin competition, a section of which would be contested at the same western Hidalgo County stadium later in the day Saturday.
So La Joya-EHS, iteration two would be a smidge primitive, sort of like the difference between so-called major college football and that of the sub-division middies or the Ivys, and there are purists out there (no names) who actually sometimes enjoy the basic drill of football without all the trimmings. The second try might also be considered primal as well as primitive, because for the Bobcats, 3-2 in District 31-6A coming in (and in), this was the game they had to have to solidify their playoff hopes. With a match against perennial rival North coming up, as well as a clash with the also hopeful Bears of P-SJ-A, Coach Rene Guzman’s group had to come out and establish bona fides right off the bat. La Joya, remember, had scored the stunning upset of North a handful of days before, looked much improved in doing so, and were looking to show that the lightning flash (sorry, couldn’t be helped) was not a fluke, but a developing pattern. So, primal in the sense that each of these schools had something to prove. Bring it!
After a night of relatively surprising rain, thunder. and lightning caused postponement Friday night, one could not blame the combatants for being a bit sluggish on a cool Saturday morning. Twenty minutes before kickoff there were exactly 11 fans on the EHS side, or about half as many people as there were yellow school buses parked adjacent to the field in La Joya, behind the fences where they keep such ancient chug-along behemoths when they are not trundling the bumpy back roads of the area looking for students. But at least it didn’t take a gazillion hours to get there through the unreal and unpalatable traffic that had made moving west on Friday evening about as much fun as a root canal. HORRIBLE. And for a ppd, to boot, wow. Repeat … take 107!
Saturday, it started to rain (dread) at 9:20, but by 9:30 the brief shower – a remnant of what had exploded with nullifying force some 14 hours prior – was done, and the teams wiped nighttime mocos away and got down to business, finally.
The game was meandering for a quarter, admittedly, by the ‘Cats were first to unlimber themselves, punching to a pair of touchdowns in the second period – thanks to a few bang-bang plays – and eventually wore down the game Coyotes for a vital 21-0 victory, bringing them closer to a berth in the postseason, with a 4-2 mark.
Senior quarterback Rolando Abrego led an attack that was more balanced than it has been in recent weeks, passing for a season-high 177 yards and rushing for 61, as EHS collected 172 on the ground. Junior Noel Serna led the way with 104 yards and two TDs, marking his second 100-yard day of the season at just the right time. The defense took a pair of turnovers and held the Coyotes to 147 total yards, erasing the sting of back-to-back blowout losses against Vela and Pharr North in which the Red and Blue were outgunned 90 to 7 on aggregate.
The early slow start, when the offense stumbled to 12 total yards on nine snaps, yielded to a solid performance all around, giving the ‘Cats a better than decent chance of getting into the Second Season.
“We didn’t do that well at first, maybe we took them lightly, not sure,” said Abrego afterward. “Having to play on Saturday instead of last night was weird, but we got it together after awhile.”
Guzman would later observe that his team had been a little rusty at the onset, and truly, the loudest voices on the field as the teams warmed up in the cavernous and nearly empty stadium were the old guys, as assistants Stevie Guerrero and Bryan Garza engaged in a spirited holla-and-woof session a half hour before kickoff. Each of those cats has ridden these rapids before and was trying to wake the kids up for the battle to come. Eventually, it worked.
“Kids are finicky at this age, you never know which team will show up,” said Guzman as he surveyed his troops on this all-important morning. “We’ve faced our share of adversity the past couple of weeks, so we’ll see how we respond to this.”
READY, SET … EVENTUALLY GO
As stated, the opening forays against La Joya were fruitless, and on the other hand, the Coyotes were finding joy with the inside handoff out of their tricky multiple offense. The first big moment came when the home side had advanced to the EHS 38 midway through the second period, only to get stopped on downs. A gigantic tackle-for-loss (seven yards) by junior Ramon Vasquez had helped grind the La Joya gears to a pause before an INC on fourth down.
The next huge point arrived when the ’Cats faced fourth and 3 at their own 45 on the subsequent possession. Abrego winged a spiral out to the right side, and junior Raul Ramirez made a great arms-extended catch to gain the sticks. When you want to make the playoffs, you go for it in this situation. If not, not.
Two plays later, Serna leapt over an early tackler on a run left and then eyed the sideline, racing down it for a 40-yard touchdown at 4:02 of the half for a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Joseph Sanchez blooped a tantalizing poocher that junior teammate Derrick Galindo raced under and caught on the fly, smack dab against the Bobcat sideline, seeming to keep his feet in bounds as he did so. The official ruling went against the ‘Cats, erasing the turnover. But with the high-motor frontline combo of Yael Herrera and Jordan Ayala marshaling the charge, Edinburg soon got the ball back.
This time, the fulcrum was a slick run fake by Abrego which presaged a ball downfield for Ramirez, who hauled it in and hauled it on, gaining 70 yards down inside the Red Zone. Despite a holding call soon after, the ‘Cats got in with a 6-yard Abrego run at 1:01 and led 14-0 at the half. No bands at the half, just ol’ Snoop Dogg juking his way through a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and who knew? Rock on … new Chronic.
Although it looked like the visitor was going to run free at this stage, a series of near-miss mistakes almost put the kibosh on Red and Blue momentum. They muffed the kickoff to begin the second half and had to begin at their own 8. The first play was a fumble, luckily recovered by the offense, and the initial first down came off a tipped pass that had interception written all over it but ended as a fortuitous catch, the chains grinding grudgingly forward.
Given this iffy start to the half, the next moment was gold, as Abrego whipped one down the seam to running back Jacob Rodriguez, who had lined up in the slot to run what they call a pipe route. The connection worked for 49 yards on third and 13 and Edinburg was driving. Abrego then picked up ample yardage on a scamper, as one of the league’s leading rushers will do from time to time, but La Joya seemed to want to forestall the inevitability, batting away a throwback pass on fourth down to regain possession at its own 6 halfway through the third.
Having figured out who’s got whom in terms of the work against La Joya’s option recipe, the defense was stiffening for EHS by this time, and would give the Coyotes very little room to operate in the second half. In fact, La Joya did not see much of the football after the break, running 17 plays to 31 for the ‘Cats. Jonathan Duran keyed a three-and-out after the O’s stoppage in the La Joya Red Zone, with Ben Gonzalez making a good tackle on third down to force a punt. But this time the offense went nowhere.
On the punt though, some poor La Joya fella turned his back on a spiraling boot from Sanchez of EHS, and it struck him on the back, Galindo alertly claiming the wayward pig at the La Joya 29. Here, Guzman’s crew withstood a pair of holding penalties and a motion flag to fight on, Rodriguez again getting loose for a clutch catch, this of 14 yards, to achieve a first down. Play calls. Guts to Throw. Balance. Win.
Soon, Serna burst into the end zone from the 3 to push the advantage to 21-0 at 11:22 of the fourth. The lead would prove insurmountable, as you already know. Late on, rugged senior Rhyan Gudino (seven tackles) produced an interception and the Bobcats marched down to a field goal try, which was blocked with a minute to go. But the bottom line was cool: needing a win under trying and truncated circumstances, the Red and Blue had come through. The opponent, we can now assess, is in quality somewhere between the team that overachieved in upsetting North and the one that started the season a woeful 1-5. Week to week, a mystery.
Along with the dependable Gudino, the heavy-hatted Duran continued his wicked wrath against 31-6A ball-carriers with nine sticks, Galindo providing eight. With junior linebacker Johnathan Maldonado out after a concussion, junior understudy Homero Cardenas filled in credibly with six stops and a pass defense.
Guzman, who noted scouts from North and P-SJ-A hanging out in the stands Saturday – plenty of room boys, plenty of room, sit any old place – said that although the ‘Cats are playing the ancient “one game at a time” routine (and rightfully so), the win was enormous.
“Big picture, in this district, five wins is the magic number, that will surely get you in,” he said. “Who knows, maybe four. We just want to maintain our focus and keep working on two things: discipline and execution.”
And as for the unusual start time and weather curveball the guys had to deal with. Meh.
“Well, both teams, us and La Joya, generally practice quite a bit in the morning,” he explained. “So in a way I expected both teams to be ready for this. We did OK today, we did get a shutout, but now we are going to face the Spread and that’s a different animal altogether.”
Ironically, a technical issue concerned the first-year mentor as much as X’s and O’s for Saturday’s showdown.
“The thing that worried me last night was, Will the kids all get a good night’s sleep,” he commented, slapping a front pants pocket where his smartphone lay concealed. “It’s a blessing in some ways but a distraction in others, so I was wanting the guys to again, practice some discipline there.”
Guzman also knows what a postponement or cancellation can do to the Mojo.
“When I was at Weslaco East, we were supposed to play La Feria one Friday, same thing happened, lightning and all that, so we had to play Saturday,” he recalled. “It didn’t go so well for us the next day, we had lost some momentum we had been carrying into Friday. So you just never know. I just told the kids: you’ve got business to do tomorrow, don’t forget it.”
After a slightly drowsy start to the strange day, the Bobcats showed they had not forgotten, and set about taking care of that business. Next hurdle, a Cougar clan that will be ornery after a recent losing streak, full of cats that hope to keep their scant playoff hopes alive by beating the team they like to topple most of all. For Guzman’s gang, after North it’s the bye week and then a finale against the Bears.
And our standings say … 1 Vela 2 Pharr North 3 Mission 4 EHS 5 P-SJ-A. The Bears have La Joya next week followed by North and the ‘Cats, while the Coogs get EHS off the bye week just past and then take on P-SJ-A before a clincher against bottom feeder Juarez-Lincoln. Excellent drama about to unfold, starting Oct. 22 at Richard R. Flores Stadium. If there is rain to come, is it too much to ask that it happen earlier in the week, instead of later? Um, OK, right … forget it.