January 22, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
Coming off a very sharp second-place finish in the McAllen Tournament and having managed to get more matches in so far than some of the other city sides, the Jags were pretty relaxed heading into their league opener Saturday. Their foe at Richard R. Flores Stadium for the afternoon would be their ancient adversary, EHS and those familiar with the rivalry know the fierceness that the players (and fans) bring to every such bout featuring Bobcats and Econ.
And on a misty and cold but not windy day, the Jags started off well, bringing the fight to the ‘Cats. The Orange forged into the lead midway home and withstood a strong effort from EHS, but in the final eight minutes, with the score level at 1, the bottom dropped out, as the ‘Cats scored twice to steal away the points.
Econ Coach Sam Gonzalez had said beforehand that the tournament run gave him a chance to sort out some lineup details and get the pieces of a partly refurbished team in the right places. After they uncharacteristically missed the postseason last year, the Jags have come into 2022 with something to prove. And despite the late loss, Gonzalez’ squad served notice that it should be in the race all the way, as has usually been the case in the past.
NO TIME WASTED
Early on Saturday, the Orange got prominent attacking work from Bryan Garcia, and soon, newcomer Randy Galvan chipped one off the bar to come close. Galvan is one of four freshmen in the starting lineup for the Jags, and he looks comfortable.
The weather was not a huge factor, though the ball got slippery and slightly heavier as the match progressed, making things interesting in the back. Luckily for Econ, veteran Javi Medellin – who has played all over the pitch in his long and successful career – is now firmly ensconced in central defense, flanked by burly enforcer Gabe Herrera, among others. Those two kids handled the EHS counters in the first 20 minutes, as Coach Luis Cardenas’ side recovered from a sluggish start to build into the proceedings and start to percolate.
Jerry Vidal worked well on the ball, combining with the dangerous Dilan Cazares for a chance, but Econ’s Eric Obregon, an important contributor last season, was able to produce a mammoth intervention to clear the box. Halfway through the first, hard-working Edgar Chavez of EHS created a try in front for imposing Miguel Solis, who went over at 21 minutes.
At this point the action morphed end to end, as Vidal got tough on defense to keep the Jags at bay in the corner, and seconds later Garcia returned the favor 100 yards away, racing into his own area to stop Hernan Tovar of EHS. One can always count on this sort of wide-open, hustling action from the ‘Cats-Jags fixture.
So far, EHS had lacked the last true pass in the final third and Econ, after a potent early showing, was being pushed into compact defense by necessity.
With 10 minutes left, the Bobcats whipped into a scoring chance but on the spot to stop the bleeding was sophomore midfielder Larry Ramirez of the Jags, who intercepted the play and cleared with a booming kick; he isn’t that big but this guy showed a strong leg nonetheless. And heart.
Econ advanced to a free kick at the football 10-yard line but it was thwarted by the Red and Blue, namely, by the head of P-SJ-A Southwest transfer Pedro Guzman. Then the freshmen, Galvan and Edgar Herrera, each got their heads on an aerial in the box, to no avail.
Late in the half, the smooth junior Cazares banged one off the bar for the game’s best chance so far. But the Jags held on, with Obregon sliding in moments later for a terrific block on an EHS shot. The Bobcats got another shot when Ethan Garza was fouled on the turn, resulting in a free kick. But again Obregon was the man on the spot for a clearing blow.
This set up a wild final sequence where Cazares appeared to put his team up with a lefty smash from 15 yards, only to have the goal disallowed because it had come after the half expired; the scoreboard was working Saturday but not the horn.
Still, the nullified goal meant that EHS was growing into the game, while the Jags were struggling to keep pace with last year’s second place 31-6A entry.
READY TO ROLL
The struggles ended abruptly for Gonzalez’ kids, as Isassi Ramirez poked in a goal off a loose ball two minutes into the second half for a 1-nil lead. The surprise came off a restart, on which the ‘Cats were scattered in the box and unable to make proper contact with ball or man.
Medellin did his part to keep the lead, parrying two shots away in succession but back came EHS, with Chavez and Cazares playing excellent 1-2 football; it took a massive step-in intervention from Gabe Herrera to cool the EHS jets, and next, Greg Andrade of the Jags – like Herrera, a stout and physical player in back – was properly defensive in erasing an EHS try.
At 28 minutes came the break the ‘Cats were seeking, as Solis slotted home a penalty after a handball violation in deep, on the Jags.
Given some momentum, EHS motored in once again, using its team speed to progress through the midfield into the attacking third. But the Bobcats could not get past Herrera, who made not one, or two, but three defensive gems in a row to keep his side level. Big Gabe will wow you with his muscles, but trick you with his wheels, and he was on his own planet now, heading a cross away at the 23-minute mark to bring joy to the Orange.
But still the ‘Cats advanced, with Solis shooting over with power, and it took a clearance from L. Ramirez once again to keep the visitor out. Solis was intense in the half, and soon created a chance for Tovar, which did not dent the net but threatened it ominously.
When Garza of the ‘Cats made the latest foray for an EHS squad playing downhill now against the tiring Jags, Andrade was there to tackle on the slide. Cazares got loose for a fast and low skimmer that brought water off the turf as it fizzed to the keeper, and it looked like a draw, PKs for the point.
That is, until EHS turned its magic on big time in the closing stages. After the Jags earned a free kick but sent the try right to the keeper, Edgar Herrera had a shot for Econ, which was stopped.
At the other end, the elusive Tovar got sight of goal from 25 yards out, right side, and lofted the game-winner high and tight into the top corner, back post, a tremendous strike indeed.
To cap the comeback from 1-nil down, the ‘Cats got sorta pretty out there, as Vidal golfed a tantalizing free kick from for 20-yard line, with Cristian Castillo running coolly onto it and volleying softly first-time, the ball settling complaisantly into the net at 4:11 of the game. What touch from Castillo!
It was a spirited match, as it always is when these two luminaries get together. The Jags defended like trojans throughout, but eventually they buckled under relentless pressure from the fleet-footed ‘Cats. There were enough positive signs from the Jags to promise more success to come in the weeks ahead, while EHS, once again, proved that it will once again be a formidable opponent for any league team to tangle with.
“That was a good game,” Gonzalez said after the match. “We had the lead, but we couldn’t keep it, we need to get better at holding down things and not allowing a change in the game. They kept coming at us, but we had our opportunities too, they just had a little more edge at the end. We had it going for a while, and then, well, things happen. But overall, I feel a lot better right now about this team; last year was a tough one for us, but we’re better this season, definitely.”
Econ takes on North at the Stadium Monday and then tackles P-SJ-A and Juarez-Lincoln later in the week, as all 31-6A sides are trying to get caught up with the slate following COVID postponements last week.