November 9, 2021
By Greg Selber
The football playoffs arrive this week with a pair of town teams in action: Vela on Thursday at home against San Benito in Division II and Edinburg on Saturday afternoon at Harlingen, in a Division I matchup.
The SaberCats (10-0) wrapped up their sixth title in 10 seasons and now tackle the Greyhounds, a strong outfit from District 32-6A that went 8-2 overall, 5-2 in the Lower Valley league. San Benito registered wins over McAllen Rowe, Mission Vets, and Schertz Clemens in non-district action; the first two schools are in the playoffs while normally tough Clemens slipped to 2-8 in 2021. In 32-6A action the ‘Hounds defeated Los Fresnos and Weslaco but lost to league champ Harlingen South (28-21) and ancient rival Harlingen (17-0). They average 32.4 ppg this season and the defense is sound, surrendering just 9.6 ppg. Their last three games have been easy, victories over Donna North, Brownsville Rivera, and Weslaco, with the last result knocking the Panthers out of the postseason. In those three contests, San Benito allowed just a single field goal.
Under Coach Dan Gomez, the Greyhounds have been one of the Valley’s best teams in recent years. Now in his eighth season, Gomez has led the ‘Hounds to a 64-26 record with three three-deep playoff trips, in 2015, 2017, and 2018. San Benito has made the playoffs in 15 of the past 18 seasons and averages 37 ppg in Gomez’ reign. As far as competition against ECISD schools goes, San Benny is 6-1 lifetime in the playoffs, including a 4-year run from 2015 to 2019 when it beat North twice and EHS twice. The other games against the locals came in 1990, when the Bobcats smacked them, 34-20, and in 1992 (they beat EHS, 13-7) and 2011 (again, beat the ‘Cats, 24-14). Last year, the Greyhounds were eliminated in bi-district with a loss to Mission and have a career record in the playoffs of 19-24.
Vela has stormed to 41.7 ppg this season and allowed just 6.2 ppg; this year’s D is ahead of the pace set by the 2018 group (11.5 ppg) and could be the No. 1 unit in school annals. The Sabes have beaten five playoff teams so far, including Harlingen and McAllen Memorial in non-league tilts.
They have fashioned a 10-7 career mark in the postseason with a 6-1 record against RGV outfits. The only local loss on the postseason resume came in 2016 when Weslaco East raced down for a field goal in the waning seconds for a shock 31-28 result. The Sabes have advanced to the third round of the bracket four times (2015 and 2017-19) but in 2020 lost to SA Brennan in area.
The winner of the San Benito-Vela contest will take on the victor of the SA Taft-Del Rio bi-district clash; Taft is the better of the two with an 8-2 mark, while Del Rio comes in at 4-6 with losses in its last two outings. As for the regional, or third round, the opponent will come from out of a talented group including Cibolo Steele, Brandeis, and Vandergrift.
The Harlingen team facing EHS (2 p.m. at Boggus Stadium) comes in 7-3 with a 5-2 mark in district. The Cards of veteran coach Manny Gomez (129-43 career record) started the season with a 30-3 loss to Vela on the road but rebounded to beat Laredo United and United South; both those Laredo schools are playoff bound, United South as the 30-6A champ and United as the No. 3 in a somewhat down year for the Longhorns. In the Lower Valley league, Harlingen beat Weslaco and San Benito, losing to South in the Bird Bowl, 28-21, and to Los Fresnos by 8 in a double overtime thriller. They average 32.3 ppg and give up 16.1 ppg.
Like San Benito, Harlingen has enjoyed much success against Edinburg teams in the Second Season, with six wins in eight tries. They have played the Bobcats three times, winning in 1988 (22-20) and 2005 (21-13) but dropping a decision to EHS in 2000, 20-16. The Cards have beaten North twice in bi-district (1996 and 2020) and defeated Econ in successive seasons starting in 2015. They have faced Vela once in the playoffs, back in 2019, and that game was mammoth, a 42-35 comeback win for the Sabes on the road.
One of the Valley’s great powers, Harlingen has won 697 career games heading into the playoffs and has posted 17 10-win seasons since beginning football back in 1913. The Cards have leveled off a bit in recent times and have not recorded double digits in victories since 2015.
As for the Bobcats, they will seek to end a 4-game playoff losing streak over the past decade of play which included unsuccessful ventures against San Benito three times, Los Fresnos once. The last postseason win for the program was actually two, coming in 2010 when Coach Joey Caceres led the squad to a 45-9 bi-district triumph at Los Fresnos followed by the memorable night in McAllen when current assistant coach Stevie “Blue Eyes” Guerrero picked the team up on his shoulders and masterminded an amazing 31-28 comeback win over Sharyland. Lifetime, EHS is 26-28-1 in the postseason.
This season, EHS is 5-5 heading in, having won two of three at the close to clinch a spot in the Dance. The ‘Cats started slowly under new coach Rene Guzman, with losses against McAllen High and Rivera, but then began 31-6A action with a 3-0 mark, beating Mission Sept. 23, a W that was eventually the difference-maker in the hunt. Losses to Vela and Pharr North crimped the program style mid-slate, and a late loss to North didn’t help. But Guzman’s gang is in, in his first year of leading his alma mater, and will rely on senior quarterback Rolando Abrego and a quick, opportunistic defense against Harlingen.
The winner of the EHS-Harlingen game will be up against either United South (7-3) or SA Harlan (6-4) in area. Neither is a world-beating unit, both solid. On the outer horizon, look for Lake Travis or SA Reagan – probably the former – to be waiting for round three.