March 14, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
One wouldn’t have blamed the Bobcats if they were feeling iffy about a huge Friday night showdown against arch-rival North. After all, EHS was down three starters, had a former defender in goal, and was on the road against a Cougar side that has been one of 31-6A’s top performers for most of the season.
Add in the fact of the drastic weather change early in the evening, though, and the mix got even more strange. It was going to be a Wind Game, with 25-30 mph gusts sailing through North’s ground and the temperature plummeting steadily.
So what does EHS do, up against the wall and facing mega-adversity? Pull out a stunning 2-1 victory with a late goal from Cristian Castillo, that’s what. The Bobcats, now on 36 points and tied for the league lead with Juarez-Lincoln, were excellent after the break, against the wind, keeping possession with some terrific passing out of the back and managing to hold the Cougars to just one goal, or equal to the one the ‘Cats got in the first half – with the wind – on senior Adrian Taboada’s masterful missile of a free kick from 40 yards out.
And when Castillo sneaked onto a Taboada corner to head home the winner at 4:43 of the night, Coach Luis Cardenas saw his side claim an enormous three points against the gun. the down beat is that EHS has the bye coming up before finishing with P-SJ-A next week. Lincoln, with a game in hand, can win the title it if can take one of its last two matches; one is against North by the way. Favors?
But that doesn’t dull the thrill of a hard-fought result for a group that also came second in the loop last season and has chopped through a recent thicket of issues to carve out another brilliant season.
“That was a tough game,” said midfield whiz Miguel Solis, who was slick and superb on the ball throughout. “We were missing a lot of guys, so we had some JV players in there. But we all came out with the winning mindset, we wanted to give our all either way. We were a little nervous and then when they scored their goal, we were like, uh-oh. But then we got our second and that was it.”
Going to war against North, which was a strong third coming into the night, is always hard, but without leading goal scorer Dilan Cazares and veteran Swiss Army knife Jerry Vidal, Cardenas knew his team was going to have to get some action from other kids. Pedro Guzman, pressed into service as the goalie now, continues to acquit himself well enough to give his side a chance, and EHS had won seven of eight matches heading into this one. The Cougars were winners in four of their last five.
With the brisk wind at their backs, the ‘Cats sought to reverse the first denouement of this biannual fixture, having been soundly beaten, 3-1, earlier in the slate. They were also nicked by North in a preseason tourney trophy match. Solis, the Texas Lutheran signee, rolled a shot to goal early on, and he has made quite a difference to the EHS charge after his transfer from Vela.
A veteran presence, Hernan Tovar, has been making a difference for four superb seasons now, and he ran left like a flash, cutting the ball back nicely at the byline, fooling his marker to fizz a rocket past the face of goal. In Wind Games, it’s all about who can score more with the momentum, but EHS was up against the district’s top defensive unit, paced by the uber-prospect, sophomore Kenneth Reyes.
The Coogs have the speed and quickness to fight against any wind, though, and they got to work with some swift counters. The muscular Taboada, perhaps the Man of the Match it should be said, was sharp in the back all night, and parried away a North advance. The Coogs started finding their way into the box now, as Raul Garcia sailed a long one into the area with Jacob Roman getting a head to it. EHS was equal to it, though, and soon forced to a free kick just inside the midline.
Taboada clouted a Duron-like blow that carried all the way into the goal mouth and when Edgar Chavez cleverly ran his defender into the keeper’s sightline, the ball sang an ode, free to be, into the net at 23:20 of the first half.
Two minutes later, with North struggling, Taboada offered another bomb, which sailed wide right, and North came back with a quick two-pass advance, switching the ball right with alacrity but losing the chance after shanking a poor third ball.
Back upfield, Reyes headed away a Bobcat try and when the rebound came his way, he again slammed it upfield, bending his knees to get power on the clearance on 18 minutes. The timing.
The Coogs got after it once more, in a very entertaining half, as Jose Soares paced long into a chance, only to have the bruising yet speedy Taboada slide in and deflect his shot out for a corner. Here, EHS again held the line and the 1-nil lead.
As the half waned, Tover went racing again, down the left side like a blur, kinda like Henry Martin or Roger Martinez from his favored America side. Into the box he motored until North’s Carlos Gonzalez was able to clear. That Tovar is a bona fide nuisance with his electric pace and considerable nous. He was able to get a half-chance soon after, side-footing a shot over, after Chavez had made a similar feed to his flying feet.
When Toboada came up to try another free kick, North was lightning on the counter, playing to a corner, but the ‘Cats were sound on set-piece defense Friday. In the final ticks, Coach Elias Moran’s Old Gold got close with a run from scoring threat Anthony Flores, and also on a lofting shot by the hard-working Fernie Ortiz. But this one went to the interval with the ‘Cats still afloat by a goal.
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EHS trod to task against the wind, with a pair of stoppers in front of the back three, and it took a diving save from Soares by Guzman to keep the lead. At the other end, Garcia closed out a foray from Tovar, and this match was getting chippier by the minute; a storm of cards would punctuate a brutal and physical half.
Taboada, who was all over the pitch, came up for a restart and got a head to a cross, and then a second, foot bite of the cherry, but could not convert on 37 minutes.
Ethan Garza, his elegant teammate, then started to boss the midfield, coming back on defense to work his way out of trouble with consistently deft dribbling in tight areas. Garza went off on a breakneck run to chip a shot into the keeper’s gloves and when North came back with a roaring flourish, Taboada crushed a 40-yarder out of the EHS box to find a cruising teammate. Perfect.
Rather than hang their heads over the absence of key lads, the ‘Cats were simply performing at a high level. When Soares steamed toward a shot, Taboada galloped over to cut him off. Then Garza and Castillo showed their poise with a couple of slick passing combos to get the ball out of hot water. This led to a shot from the lithe Solis, which was blocked by the panther-quick Reyes on 27 minutes.
Four minutes on, disaster nearly struck Cardenas and Co., but Guzman was able to locate a pinballing rock after a North free kick, just in time. The match then turned on its head after Reyes, who had been carded in the first half, was similarly cautioned after a fierce tackle to avert an EHS break. This put the Coogs behind the eight ball for the last 20 minutes.
EHS got some nice fill-in work from subs down the stretch, as Angel Torres and Leo Cantu came on to provide some strength in the middle of the park. Cantu has battled back from a series of injuries, making his sound effort in the second half a welcome additive to the eventual victory.
But North was not going to just take it to the showers, and Moran’s men forged the equalizer at 15:41 as Jesus Martinez hopped on a defensive lapse in deep to slot home for the leveler. With the wind whipping them onward, and EHS scrambling, it looked like the home side might just be ascendant after all.
But Garza of the ‘Cats danced on the ball with delicacy, and Torres slammed a perfect pass out wide to stem a North rush. Garza later sallied into the area, and found Solis, who did a filthy Ronaldinho-ish double-dink pass to himself, left foot/right foot to slide past a defender before being stymied. With six minutes left, the Vela ex swarmed downfield to earn a corner, and then it was time for Castillo to be the hero. North was unable to mark him on the set piece and the ball arrived on time from Taboada, Castillo crunching it in for the go-ahead goal.
Serious crisis time came with three minutes left when North welcomed a free kick opportunity from just outside the 18-yard box, flush left, but Tovar came with a block and then Torres made a vital header clearance. Garza also provided a late parry of a Martinez try and Cesar Tovar was equally adept with a headed intervention as EHS withstood a ferocious last-second rally by the Coogs. It wasn’t over until Martinez of North made a fantastic play to arrange a chip shot with just 30 seconds left. It fired over, and the deed was done.
As stated, the Bobcats are tied at tabletop with Lincoln, a match against the Bears to be their last action of the regular season. The Huskies, who defeated Pharr North Friday, 2-0, have rival La Joya next, and the finale against the Cougars. North (28 points) looks set to wrap up third if it can best either Lincoln or the Bears, though Mission (25 points) and La Joya (24) would be ready to strike if given the opportunity.
It’s been a tremendous race do far, with a troubling playoff task on the horizon versus the perennial powers from 32-6A. This season it looks like two from town for the postseason, Econ and Vela hugging the nether reaches of the league rolls. The SaberCats recorded a pleasant result Friday by scoring a season-best five times while holding the Jags to a single goal at the Stadium. The win put them on eight points, two behind Econ and one shy of the Raiders heading into the final days of the campaign next week.