September 8, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for game photos
It wasn’t that they didn’t move the ball Thursday because they did, cranking out three strong drives of at least 11 plays. And it wasn’t like the defense got absolutely gashed, as that unit played valiantly for the most part, holding the opponent to 259 yards and 11 first downs, while the offense got 218 and 16.
But in the key moments, the Bobcats let go the rope in Week Three, dropping a 21-3 home decision to Weslaco to fall to 1-2 on the season. The Panthers, who were stymied for most of the first half, broke out with two touchdowns in the space of 1:09 early in the third period, and added a third TD down the stretch to rise to 3-0.
Two of the six-pointers were long runs, of 63 and 66 yards, and the other came on a short pass after the ‘Cats had inexplicably failed to secure a kickoff, this following the first Weslaco score, at 9:51 of the third. To that point, EHS had held the Panthers to negative yards rushing and done its best to make up for the loss of the explosive Noel Serna, who sat out with an injury. They nailed a field goal in the first period to cap a 15-play drive, and almost had another in the second, as the kick bounced softly off the crossbar from 37 yards out, ending a strong 8-play sequence with no points.
Still, the ‘Cats were up at the half, 3-0, until the rash of big plays and miscues washed away the momentum, leading to 14 Weslaco points and the attendant sagging (only slight) of home side spirits. Again, it wasn’t a lack of offense, as that unit marched 11 plays downfield in the third period, only to suffer an interception. Then the ‘Cats ambled on down to the Panther 37 before losing the ball on downs midway through the fourth; next play, pi-yah, 63-yard Purple blur to put the result out of reach.
Coach Rene Guzman’s mantra these days for the team: finish, at the end of drives and the later parts of games. Though he had plenty of bright performers to be proud of, the Bobcats did not finish their drives or take chances when they arose. And they allowed a couple of huge mojo-turning moments that doomed the effort.
Not having Serna was a problem, as it limited the offensive ability to get outside. Pounding mainly between the tackles, either on straight handoffs to Jacob Gonzalez or keepers from sophomore QB Jae Santa Maria, EHS collected 145 yards rushing, 54 from Gonzalez and 72 from Santa Maria. The passing game was somewhat pedestrian, a 6-of-17 showing for 73 yards, though senior Rivers Martinez corralled four balls on the night.
It was, in essence, a game the ‘Cats could have won, and the coaches will probably say “should,” with reason, giving the program hope that in the coming weeks – on the road against Weslaco East and San Benito – the group can get healthy (three defensive starters missed out Friday, along with Serna) and start to put its potential and promise into practice. There were certainly intermittent signs of those maturing attributes at home Thursday.
HOW GOOD ARE THEY?
Weslaco came in after wins over Mercedes and Harlingen South, programs that were among the best in the Valley in 2021 but appear to be down this season so far. And the Panthers did not look much like a Top 10 unit early on, failing to get a first down on three of their first four possessions. The first was sabotaged by senior end Jordan Ayala, who was active and dangerous all night with nine tackles and a second-half fumble recovery. Ayala made a tackle on the series and then was first to the hit after a 24-yard Weslaco loss on a horrific snap that went sailing past the punter.
The ‘Cats got the ball and went sailing themselves, converting two third-down situations, thanks to Gonzalez and then Martinez. But from the Weslaco 6, three snaps went nowhere, and on came Juan Davila to nail a short field goal at 3:47.
Again, the defense was sound against a sputtering Weslaco attack, as first senior Ramon Vazquez and then fellow linebacker Angel Torres showed their range with pass-defense plays to force a punt.
The next real action in a slightly ho-hum half came early in the second stanza when Davila punted sweetly down to the Panther 6. A pass interference flag on EHS yielded a first down for Weslaco, its first, but a sharp rush from freshman end David Garza – he had discernible impact from the edge Thursday – and then a solid defensive knockdown of a pass from junior Nicholas Gonzalez halted the Panthers yet again.
The offense continued to work, getting hard inside running from Gonzalez and some Abrego-like gains from the promising Santa Maria to move to the enemy 18. But again, difficulty in finishing during the key moments, as two runs netted one yard and an incomplete pass led to the field goal try that lofted into the air from 37 yards out, barely missing a 6-point lead as it fell back to the turf, off bar. A 31-yard screen pass-and-run from Santa Maria to Gonzalez was the signature snap of the drive.
The Panthers finally got untracked then, getting a 20-yard pass play and a personal foul to steam downfield in the waning seconds of the half. A desperation 33-yard gainer by pass set them up at the EHS 3 with 0:15 left. On the next snap, Ayala was first to pounce, and got help from freshman safety Woodrow Villarreal – another productive game from him – and senior DB Jose Venegas to register a 5-yard loss. More importantly, the refs ran 10 seconds off the clock per rule, following a Panther injury stoppage, leaving the visitor out of time and holding an empty bag.
TIME TO MAKE IT COUNT
Just 3-0 at the half, the ‘Cats feeling like they had made enough plays to be ahead by more than that. Missed opportunities against a struggling foe that was exhibiting ominous wakeup signs.
The omens came home to roost quickly after the break as after an Edinburg punt to start things, Weslaco raced 66 yards on its initial run from scrimmage for a 7-3 lead at 9:51. Seconds later, two return men did not snag the kickoff, the ball hopping loose and free inside the 20, Weslaco saying, OK, we’ll take it, getting it at the ‘Cat 14.
Three plays later it was 14-3 and this juncture was crippling to what had hitherto been a pretty decent overall effort.
Edinburg was still lively, though, getting a 16-yard run from Santa Maria which jumpstarted a skein of three first downs and eventually, possession at the Panther 25. Then came the interception, at 3:35 of the third.
A penalty versus Weslaco on the pick return set the ball back at the Panther 2, but a pass netted a first down, getting Coach Roy Stroman’s club out of a hole. The home side held to force a punt, but by then the offense was tiring and went three-and-out.
With Garza and LB Johnathan Maldonado leading the way, the D held again, leading to the last significant offensive surge. With junior Ryen Abrego on in relief of Santa Maria, the ‘Cats blasted from their own 17 to the 43, getting a facemask call and a defensive offside penalty on a fourth-and-2 snap to keep rolling. That drive ended without points at 6:12 when a running play subsided, two yards from the sticks.
Again, Weslaco fired a first-play cannon with a 63-yard touchdown scamper, putting this one to rest once and for all midway through the fourth.
With defensive depth at a minimum minus three regulars, and with the elusive Serna sidelined, Guzman’s group nonetheless gave a reasonably good account; it was just the key junctures that betrayed the ‘Cats in this one, leaving them irritated no doubt after working so hard to create chances, only to see them frittered away as Weslaco picked up juice and made the plays to salt away the W.