November 3, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
As the Second Season arrives, it will be a busy week for town teams, as three of four advanced past the regular slate and earned the Golden Ticket to participation in the playoffs. And a back-to-back football treat awaits the avid locals at Richard R. Flores Stadium this week.
In the 6A bracket, 31-6A champ North is in against Los Fresnos on Friday night in Edinburg, while EHS, which came third in the league after a loss at home Thursday to P-SJ-A but received an 11th hour jolt to the good, thus altering the path, will tackle Weslaco the night before, Thursday, also at home. So, the two Originals advance, intent on scratching out some spoils for the first time in a few moons, and using home ground to stake the valid claim.
EHS was to play 10-0 Harlingen in bi-district before the Bears of P-SJ-A, who had beaten the hardluck ‘Cats to gain the higher seed in Division I, were judged to have made some certain infractions regarding ineligibility. At any rate, it’s now EHS-Weslaco Part 2, after early in the campaign the Panthers defeated the ‘Cats in Edinburg, Sept. 8. Now return the Panthers. Playing the undefeated Harlingen squad, having its best season since 2015, would have been a tougher go for the ‘Cats, by yards, and yet, in the Second Season, every muster is a bear in its own way. Way it is.
From 5A, it will be Vela, at 9-1, against Weslaco East, a club the SaberCats walloped handily back in non-district play. Those two will match moves Friday at McAllen’s Memorial Stadium, the dreaded Neutral Site. Some day someone will explain the logic here, or lack thereof, as the higher seeds, or ones with district resumes better than that of their opponents, do not automatically get the home game for round one. Some day.
THREE WARRIOR BANDS
Of the three units ready for the Second Season, some observers say that North might be the hottest, though certainly Vela fans will note that their club has averaged an otherworldly 63 ppg in five wins since the Pharr North business. But the Old Gold is surely on a fine roll of its own.
The Cougars, in winning a title – and the Gold Ball that happily comes with such territory – for the first time in more than 20 seasons, finished 8-2 after a 28-0 whitewashing of Econ Friday and now turn their attention to the Falcons, a 6-4 squad that went 2-3 in district. The Falcons have a youthful skill group on offense, led by freshman quarterback Robert Pineda, who has passed for 1,128 yards and rushed for 847 more in his debut season. Junior Gael Palestina (797 yards rushing) is solid, while tiny but quick receivers Josh Limon and Thomas Sandoval combined for 769 aerial yards. Some playmakers.
Los Fresnos defeated Weslaco East and P-SJ-A, among others, earlier in the season, dropping 32-6A bouts against Weslaco (by 4); San Benito (by 29); and Harlingen (by 25), the latter two to close the season on a somewhat down note. They are very definitely a step below Harlingen and San Benito from their tough league, but tricky nonetheless.
North, meanwhile, has carved out eight wins, its most since 2013, and has won six in a row since a loss to Eagle Pass back on Sept. 15, playing with force and power from the lines, confidence, and belief. Simply, spirits in camp have not been this high since back-to-back third-round trips the Coogs made in 2012 and 2013.
Ranked No. 6 in the Valley poll aided by a rugged defense that only allowed 22 points in five league outings, the Coogs will seek to end a streak of bi-district losses that now stands at five games, like EHS. Included in that run of first-round exits were two defeats at the hands of Los Fresnos, back in 2014 and 2016. The Coogs were knocked out by San Benito in 2017 and 2018 and came up short against Harlingen in 2020. Their last postseason glory came in 2013 when they whipped Eagle Pass and Harlingen South before running into an unbeatable Cibolo Steele entry in the third round. That was current AD Roy Garza’s swan song as North boss, and it was a superb one.
As stated, EHS will also seek to put a playoff losing streak to bed as it turns focus to Weslaco and the rematch. The Panthers, 7-3 overall to 5-5 for the ‘Cats (who suffered two late-season losses but remain dangerous), have some weapons and earlier used them to score non-league wins against Harlingen South and Sharyland, aside from the ‘Cats. In Andres Sepulveda, Weslaco has a dynamic junior who had passed for more than 1,600 yards and run for 329 more, with five TDs on the ground.
And that is a bit odd for Old Weslaco, long long the running team par excellence. Under the excellent coach Roy Stroman, the Panthers are opening it up more these days, and for the season are getting 168 in the air per game, as opposed to 121 rushing. The Panther D has some hitters, especially middle linebacker Devin Fuentes, who notched more than 100 tackles in the regular season. He and DB Gavin Silva (six interceptions) are game-breaking kids, and keep in mind, Stroman has got two 250-pound horses up D front way, and they are not slow.
The Bobcats, then, are in for a fine night of action. They have proven to be playoff worthy and yet were not satisfied with the way the 31-6A race ended. Here is their opportunity to show what they can do, and at times during the season they’ve surely looked terrific in pursuit defense, punishing and opportunistic on offense. If the Bobcats can keep the ball, take an occasional nibble to the outside and/or deep middle, and play their usual brand of tough defensive football, they can win. Weslaco has a fairly physical bunch to be sure, but so does Edinburg, which makes this first-rounder a very compelling situation.
As for Vela, the SaberCats wound up the First Season Thursday with a resounding 62-14 smashing of Rowe on the road and now advance to a rematch with an East group that is itself on a jag, having taken five straight wins after a 1-4 non-district start against tough comp.
The Wildcats lost their league opener to Harlingen South, 7-3, but caught fire to fashion a 5-1 mark in 32-6A. Along with the 54-7 rout at the hands of Vela, the Wildcats also dropped a close decision against EHS, 21-17, in non-league action. In district, they nipped Brownsville Vets 22-21 and Donna 22-14 with an athletic team that is balanced on offense but not quite prolific; East gets 157 yards a game rushing and 126 passing, and for the season scores 22.5, allows 18.3. Like the Los Fresnos team that North faces, East has an athletic offensive crew with few seniors among the stalwarts; its defense gave just 11 ppg in five district tries. Coach Mike Burget of East always brings a faithful team of hard hats to the park, and traditionally, the Wildcats have been one of the Valley’s most successful postseason outfits. Jury was out on East for a while, but this rugged crew is in, and very capable of springing some surprises should the Blue and Black not be ready.
Shouldn’t be an issue, because all signs are that the Sabes are locked, loaded, and lasered as the postseason arrives. They are just blowing people away lately.
Vela as we know finished second in its 5A league but has been absolutely nasty since a 28-21 loss to Pharr North on Sept. 22, scoring a massive 63 points per game in a 5-game massacre. For the season Vela now has tallied 558 points, the highest total in the RGV in 2022 and in reach of the program mark for single-season scoring, set in 2015 when the Sabes put a whopping 602 markers on the board.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Blue and Black will seek to reach the 10-win mark, and that would be the eighth time in 11 seasons for such a feat; they have a career winning percentage of .768 (tops in the RGV) and are hound-dogging a first-round win for the sixth year running. Ironically, Vela’s last loss in bi-district came against East, at home back in 2016 when the Wildcats overcame the odds on the Misty Mountain with a last-second field goal to cap a 31-28 upset. Vela has nine postseason victories since that loss to East and now hunts No. 10 in a bracket starter that appears to be a mismatch in some ways.
But East will come to clash, that much has always been certain with the Wildcats, and all the city teams know the ancient maxim: take care of business, one play at a time. One series and quarter at a time. This trio of worthies has weathered much to get into position, and now the stage is theirs.