October 14, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
For two afternoons in a row, starting Thursday, a quick spate of rain had rolled into town, leaving behind a brief humidity like Cuba’s, but eventually producing a rainbow of some merit. Each night, the special visitor in the clouds gave southbound drivers down Closner a look at the old water tower – the one on which are emblazoned the exploits of Bobcat football juggernauts of yore – framed by the spectrum of spectacular colors, almost a welcome sign leading to the stadium. And for both programs, the Friday omen could have been one of hope for the future, of renewal, and a harbinger of what riches might be found at the end of the rainbow.
Edinburg High kids clattered around the parking lot, primping for the Homecoming celebration to come, and parents, sisters and others helped gals into their mammoth armor of mummery, all bristling with excitement.
By the time the rainbow slid behind a fine patch of pink and apricot sky an hour or so later, it was time for football, and when city rivals get together, it’s always cooler than not.
The night went sort of as expected, the Bobcats subduing the Jaguars 36-16 to climb to 2-0 in district and dropping Econ to 0-2. But at certain points along the curve, the Orange served notice that they’re getting there, settling in steadily under a new coach, and will hopefully be a tough out in the last three 31-6A contests.
A day after North defeated Mission soundly and started preparing for the P-SJ-A Bears, the Bobcats put away an old foe and started thinking about La Joya, next week’s opponent. But everyone knows that the hardest part about this coming seven days – besides the game at hand – is keeping focus, and not looking ahead to Oct. 28, when North and EHS will tangle with what appear to be prominent playoff implications in the offing.
EHS coach Rene Guzman approached the Jag game with a bonus, because he was getting his club back up to health after a series of injuries rocked the ship a tad.
“But with us, it’s just ‘next,’” he said, while watching his ‘Cats stretch. “Next man up, and we are not letting it bother us, we just have to step up and be ready. We’re getting some guys back now, so that will help.”
As it seeks to race for the crown, Guzman’s team will finish – after La Joya and the Coogs – with P-SJ-A. After a stretch of road games that sent the ‘Cats not here but there consistently, they will not have to leave the friendly confines of Richard R. Flores Stadium for the final trio of musters. And Guzman has been at work with his squad, teaching it and testing it, seeing results and demanding more. For Friday, he was not averse to a little classic psychology, using some “bulletin board material,” as they used to say.
“We’ve seen Dave Campbell’s magazine, they picked teams ahead of us,” Guzman chuckled, talking of what he talks with the kids. “So, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we can’t beat them, they’re too good.’ It seems to work out well, because they know what we really think: that we can beat anyone if we play well. Makes ‘em mad.”
The boomerang strategy also works on the individual level, as the coach explained. He mentioned the case of Johnathan Maldonado as a good example.
“Ever since I got here, I have been motivating him, sometimes by getting after him a little,” Guzman said. “And he responds well to that, I challenged him to learn how to run a defense the way we need him to, and you can see, on the field, he really is a great leader for us. I get on him because I love him, and that’s the way coaches sometimes are. Johnathan has fulfilled all the things we have asked him, he’s a tremendous football player.”
And there some other tremendous players on the field Friday, on both sides, as Econ struck first with a crisp drive that netted a field goal, the ‘Cats responding with a drive of their own, producing a touchdown. At times during the first half it looked as if EHS might pull away, to win for the 16th time in 21 career meetings between the two city brothers.
But the Jags scratched and clawed well for a while, and when they lagged, falling behind 36-3 in the second half, they recovered to storm to two more scores (on successive possessions) to pad some pride and show that under coach Raul Salas, they may be underdogs, but they will fight the entire 48 minutes. The Jags have Mission at home Friday, followed by a trip to La Joya against a Coyote band that is winless in 2022 and has scored just 65 points in seven losses. The finale comes Nov. 4 against North, giving the Jags a chance to play spoiler if they cannot string together some wins to enter late into the league race.
As they learn the system and improve on execution, the Jags may just be able to claim a win or two before it’s all said and done, and the bottom line: in Year One of the Salas Era, Econ is making strides in every area, week by week, and just waiting for the overall results to improve, which of course takes time, especially for a program in transition. Under Salas, the Jags are disciplined, spirited, and have not shown anything but class in their ’22 bouts. Give them time, and watch the results start to blossom, the smart money says.
Great night for football, and the Orange was obviously fired up, using the solid offensive group to positive effect early. Miguel Saucedo, the elusive glider who picks holes improv-style and can disappear in an eyeblink, broke off a 24-yard run on the first series, dragging a series of EHS tacklers for 10 yards after contact (YAC) and at one point late in the run, it seemed like all 22 cats were in there pushing and pulling, getting the blood going for a good old-fashioned slobberknocker.
QB Juju Eguia then converted a third-and-long with a pass to Ethan Barron, who was amazing on the catch. A defender shielded his vision at the right time (for him, anyway), making Barron have to catch the ball over his shoulder as it came superfast on him. That 10-yard gem electrified the Econ crowd and the Jags were in business, in the Red Zone. However, EHS stiffened at this stage behind a pair of tackles by the versatile Juan Davila. On came sophomore Ponciano Vasquez, the hero of the win over Lopez back on Sept. 1, and he booted a three-pointer through for a 3-0 Jag lead at 5:09. Yes, a seven-minute drive with the offense steadily gaining ground against a pesky Bobcat defense. For the night, Econ would pick up 127 yards rushing, 67 by the shifty Saucedo, but the passing attack was lukewarm, yielding only 43 more.
The Bobcats, on their way to 246 rushing yards and 129 through the airwaves, took that early knock to the chops and set about doing something in return. And with home run threat Noel Serna back in action after some injury woes, that seemed a fair possibility. The slick little senior, squeezing through holes and leaning into and past contact to make himself a tight missile shuttling forward, would net a total of 119 yards on his 21 carries Friday, and with backfield mate Jacob Gonzalez sidelined, his re-contributions were vital. With QB starter J.T. Santa Maria also on the shelf with an injury, Guzman turned to Ryen Abrego, and the brother of recent program star Rolando Abrego was to acquit himself well against Econ, going 5 for 7 passing and adding 66 yards (and a score) on the ground. Now the stocky lefty found trusty senior Raul Ramirez for a 25-yard gain made into 40 by a personal foul on the Jags. From the 14, Abrego zipped around left end and ripped into the end zone, giving EHS a 7-3 lead at the 3:19 mark of the first. One way to avoid the Trap Game: answer well any time the upstart does something hot.
The Jags avoided a serious land mine on their next possession, when Jordan Ayala of EHS forced a fumble and freshman safety Woody Villarreal latched onto it, galloping into the end zone for a shock touchdown. A penalty called that one back and it would not be the last time Friday that the ‘Cats committed a costly infraction to nullify a six-pointer. The Jags survived the scare, but the combo of LB Edward Zuniga and DB Ramon Vasquez bossed the series, leading to a punt.
The teams settled into slugs now, each earning a three-and-out via its defense, and on the Econ series, Bobcat corner Derrick Galindo (another returnee from the infirmary), battled Barron on a couple of long pass tries, winning the day by a hair against the dangerous Jag who leads the team in receiving in 2022. Good hard war between those two, fun to watch. Econ would later return the favor with one of the many freshmen who are seeing the field in town these days. Youngster Prudencio Cantu of the Orange was at right corner for most of the night, and he made a credible account of himself, getting in on six tackles and defending a pair of passes his way.
From their 35, the ‘Cats rode Serna to the end zone on an 8-play march during which Serna carried six times, including on the final tote of the drive, a 10-yard TD at 5:38. The firecracker has picked up 612 yards rushing already, even with a couple of contests on the sidelines. Abrego, not missing his chance to get quality minutes, had steamed around end for 11 yards to set up the Serna marker.
This was Danger Time for the Jags, and sure enough, now came a turnover; the worst kind, a Pick Six grabbed by linebacker Homero Cardenas of EHS, who completed a 35-yard return for six at 5:10, pounding through a solid lick at the 15 and managing to stay on his feet to get to paydirt.
It was going to take some steady sequences to keep the rampaging ‘Cats at bay, and down 21-3, the Jags provided one as quarterback Johan Nunez, yet another 9th-grader in orange, banged forward for a first down on the sneak. Yes, the Jags are super young, with three underclassmen among the top tacklers Friday and a lineup littered with newbies from start to finish. A full 34 of 62 names on the roster will be back for more in 2023, as opposed to the EHS situation, in which Guzman fields a seasoned crew with many experienced seniors. Then the Jag comeback drive eroded on another turnover when Vasquez knocked the ball loose and Davila recovered at the enemy 38. But a rash of three flags on offense kept EHS from adding to its lead, and the Jags were still alive, and desperate to try and make some headway.
RESULT STILL IN QUESTION?
The ‘Cats were still percolating after the break, however, running nine plays to get into range once again. Ethan Calderon scooted around end for a 14-yard gain to key the surge, but a field goal try went awry, giving Econ a boost to start the third period. But with Cat freshman end David Garza making a racket from the edge, Econ could not move it, and punted away, only to its own 47. EHS struck fast with a rejoinder, getting first downs on runs from Serna and Abrego until one of the plays of the night: a 16-yard right corner looper from Abrego that Ramirez leapt for and somehow took away from the well-positioned defensive man, falling onto the turf with ball in hand. At 3:46 of the third, it was 28-3, Homecoming side.
With all factors against, Salas’ club came out and showed life, but a sharp tackle by Vasquez in pass defense put the kibosh on the chance. Six different Bobcats recorded at least six stops on Friday, with the lasered in Maldonado in on 10, quickster end Ayala adding seven, and LB Victor de Leon coming on strong in the second half to register eight tackles.
That EHS D forced another kick from the Jags as the quarter waned, and from their own 28, the ‘Cats needed nine snaps to increase the lead. Abrego set off on a weaving 20-yard pickup and he also found Ramirez open for a 21-yard passing advance. When the Red and Blue chalked up another score on a 6-yard run at 10:18 of the fourth, it became 36-3. And the dude who punched it in? None other than the powerpack Maldonado, who may be one of the shortest linebackers in the Valley but is also one of the toughest. He plays for keeps, that 34.
Rather than just wait for the game to be over, the Jags illustrated their belief in what Salas is preaching, finishing the night with some highlights of their own. A personal foul on an at times penalty-ridden EHS outfit helped, but the hard running of sophomore Alvaro Alcudia was equally important, as he cracked through the D three times for solid yards. Backfield mate Daniel Delgadillo, also a 10th-grader, knocked the door down from the 4 at 6:36, and though the PAT hit the upright in denial, the Orange crowd roared appreciation nonetheless. Soon after, following a successful onside kick gathered in by Erick Obregon, Econ did it again. This time, Acudia carried for three gains again, and a 25-yard pass to junior Raul Villarreal led to a short TD power from Nunez, at 3:45.
Down the stretch, EHS ran out the clock with a new face behind center. It belongs to Johnny Islas, a big, strong-looking kid who showed his arm off with a 49-yard strike to senior Rivers Martinez, who caught the rocket after it bounced off his pads and up into the air. No more points were in the offing, as the ‘Cats were just outside the north end zone when the clock expired for good.
Econ had proven itself, coming careening back with two scores in the fourth, and there were several Jags who stood out. On defense, junior safety Adrian Fernandez was hitting all night, to the tune of eight tackles, the same total achieved by junior ‘backer Chris Perez. Soph Henry Zuniga chipped in with six as did the aforementioned Cantu, while Geronimo Villarreal celebrated a new jersey number (11) with a half dozen licks. The leader of the tacklers on Friday was DB Angel Figueroa, who raged in for 10 stops. Most of these guys will be returning in 2023, and these tough games, in a season of refresh and renew out east, will blood the youngins well.
With a five-game league schedule, the thought is that two wins are enough to send a team into the playoff conversation. With P-SJ-A, North, and EHS all 2-0 right now, the rest of the pack had better get with it, sooner than later. Long way to go, though, before anything is decided.
The ‘Cats got rock-ribbed special teams tackles from Eusebio Coy against Econ, as well as a smart two-point conversion run from holder Jude Vega – after the PAT following the last TD looked lost – and some smashing downfield blocks from their line, including Jorge Guzman, who was flat wearing out anyone that lined up in his path. Guzman His Coach is set for the stretch run and his guys will not take La Joya lightly. Anything can happen, just reference the 2021 season for the 411 on that.
After posting their seventh win in succession versus the Jags, re-directing a three-game hex Econ had on them from 2013-15, the ‘Cats are set to see what unfolds in the next three weeks. EHS has been scoring some points lately, with 84 in its last two nights of work, up from the 11.6 ppg mark in non-district. They have traveled many fruitful miles since getting hammered down in San Benito Sept. 23, and now plan on aiming straight for the district championship, which would be the program’s first since the co-title of 2004.