November 13, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
HARLINGEN – The last time they went to battle for a day game on the road, the result was a solid 21-0 Saturday victory over La Joya, back on Oct 16. This time, though, the stakes were way higher and so was the quality of opponent. For bi-district, it was a difficult test at Boggus Stadium against the Harlingen Cardinals, and the weekend result 2.0 was similar, though reversed.
The Cards, rising to 8-3 for the season, completely shut EHS down and out, posting a 21-0 win in which they allowed the Bobcats just 127 total yards and eight first downs. Finishing 5-6 in Coach Rene Guzman’s debut season in charge, the ‘Cats found no room to run, went just 4 for 15 through the air, and squandered a pretty salty defensive effort that kept the Cards at bay as long as it could before being overcome by fatigue down the stretch.
It was just 3-0 at the half on a bright, breezy and unseasonably warm day in Cameron County, with the ‘Cats hanging in there against a traditional powerhouse. In the first period EHS got to the Harlingen 20 before failing on downs, and then endured a long stretch when there was absolutely zero joy to be found against a big, fast Harlingen front. Senior QB Rolando Abrego surpassed over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in the ball game but got hammered relentlessly, ending with 71 yards on 15 trips, 39 of that on a late dash in garbage time. Other than that, swarming Redbird defenders kept him well in check while the Harlingen offense slowly got going.
It took a couple of electric punt returns to jumpstart a Card attack that would collect 311 yards, mainly on the ground. The home side added a field goal in the third and then a rushing score, completing the decision on a short run with nine minutes to go. By then, the Bobcats, who had made a strong account of themselves on D, were flagging, dropping with injuries, and the Cards had taken advantage.
Still, it was a competitive contest for most of the way as Guzman had led his charges through the 31-6A wars and into the postseason. With a roster full of juniors coming back for more in 2022, the future looks bright for the program, despite the disappointing defeat.
HAD THEIR CHANCES
One thing that helped EHS spar with the higher ranked foe was penalties; Harlingen’s rampaging front jumped offside twice on the initial series. Neither team was especially sharp from the outset and when the Cards misfired on a punt midway through the first, the visitor took possession at its own 45. Abrego flipped a 24-yard gain to senior Christian Ramirez and junior Noel Serna picked up a first down via the run, one of the few times that speedster had any space to operate. But from the 20 the drive stalled.
As Harlingen tried to find success against the quick and aggressive EHS defense, it committed a pair of holding penalties to fizzle out, but as the second period began, the ‘Cats went 3-and-out, with gang-tackling hitters not allowing Abrego to pick a hole and go as he has done so well in 2021. At times if seemed as if the Cards had 15 players out there on D, all in the box.
The Cards now marched to the EHS 15, aided by a personal foul penalty, but here senior corner Albert Armendariz was heroic with a leaping interception in the end zone at 5:50 of the half. EHS was clawing for a foothold, and this athletic play certainly helped.
Next, the ‘Cats came up empty – they gained just 41 total yards in the half – and Aiden Sandoval turned in a terrific punt return to set the Redbirds up at the enemy 33. Once again, though, Guzman’s D was up for it, holding Harlingen to a field goal. Playing without its leading tackler in the middle, the unit still thrived, as OLB Rhyan Gudino (11 tackles) had a fine game, along with junior LBs Johnathan Maldonado and Homero Cardenas, who combined for 20 stops Saturday. Junior end Edward Zuniga was also an active force in bi-district with eight tackles, while junior LB Ramon Vasquez added seven.
In five possessions for the first half, EHS went 3-and-out three times, and began the third period the same way. This, after a somewhat incongruous halftime performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” by the Harlingen band, which the melting and sunburned crowd just shook its heads at. The heat was a factor in the stands and on the field, and when the second half got rolling, the Edinburg defense was starting to feel the effects.
Harlingen pounced then for a 63-yard run down to the EHS 3, but with Zuniga registering two hits and linemen Yael Herrera and Jordan Ayala working against a heavy Card line, the D held again, forcing a short field goal at 8:47. All well and good, but if the offense couldn’t now provide some rest and fast, it was looking dicey.
Unfortunately, the ‘Cats suffered an interception on their next series, made worse by an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on the return. Undaunted, the D went back to the grind, and thanks in part to a hold and a personal foul on the Cards, managed to stave off disaster once again. Not enough can be said about the defensive kids for their performance Saturday, and this is not to – by association – cast aspersions on the offense. It was just that versus Harlingen, with one of the best front fours in the Valley – big, strong kids who brought the kitchen sink, it was always going to be tough to move the chains. Such is life in the Second Season. No matter what EHS tried, it just could not gain traction. Outside of three snaps that netted 77 yards, the visitor gained just 50 more the whole game; of 33 rushing attempts, only five gained more than four yards Saturday.
Later in the third, Sandoval again got loose on a punt runback and this time the Cards got in, at 3:42 for a 13-0 lead. As the afternoon wore on, Harlingen drove 88 yards for the final TD, adding a two-point pass for the 21-0 margin.
In the waning minutes, Abrego raced free on fourth and 1, down the right sideline for 39 yards, and the ‘Cats got into the Red Zone. There, however, the final try died out after a motion flag from the 1 and a last pass that fell incomplete.
The Cards move on now to take on Laredo United South in area, a rematch of a tilt the Cards won in non-district this season. The war between RGV 6A leagues ended 2-2, with Vela and Pharr North advancing from 31, Harlingen and Los Fresnos from 32. And the Bobcats can rest assured that they made the grade in 2021, battling gamely in bi-district with a credible showing against a formidable foe. And they’ll probably be back for more next season.