February 28, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
Unless you were the gambling type, you might not have backed the chances Tuesday, of a wounded EHS side taking on the high-flying Jaguars and coming out victorious. After all, Econ has been leading the league with flair, averaging three goals a match with talented attacking options galore. The Bobcats, meanwhile, have been struggling to stay afloat, have yet to get leading scorer Dilan Cazares back in action, and had just two available subs on the bench for the home match.
It’s football though, and it’s EHS-Jags, meaning oftentimes the unusual becomes usual, the abnormal normal. So it was that Luis Cardenas’ spirited crew withstood an early barrage from Econ, took the game by the scruff of the neck, and delivered a fantastic 3-nil win that catapults them right back into the District 31-6A race. The result represents paybacks for the Feb. 12 match between the two, won 3-2 by Econ, but also gets the Bobcats rolling at a crucial juncture. With three dates remaining, they’re on 10 points, just one behind Mission and La Joya. The Jags were surprised on the road by their timeless rival, but still lead the league at 15, North churning closely behind, by a single point. A mad scramble for the playoffs, and Tuesday was the sort of determinative exercise Cardenas was looking for.
“We had more opportunities in our last game against Mission,” the intense coach said before the Jags-‘Cats kickoff. “We just didn’t make the most of them, and when we got to penalties, we were clueless and we lost it. This season has been tough but fun too, we’re still one or two impact players short, and having Dilan out doesn’t help. But we are fighting.”
After the action, after the ‘Cats outworked the Jags and corrected a recurring flaw – lack of goals, just eight in six prior matches – by finding the net three times, the coach was satisfied, sort of.
“The effort was there tonight, we did the running, and sometimes that what it takes,” Cardenas explained. “We were winning the 50/50s, we pushed with energy the whole game, and this time, we took advantage of the chances we had. We really needed this win, it was a definite thing, we had to come out and do this.”
Before the night, Coach Juan Rodriguez of the Jags, who has piloted the side to a very strong season so far, was working on the team mentality.
“These guys will say, ‘Sir, we’re averaging three goals,’” he said, smiling. “But I will tell them that they are also giving up too many, and we have to get better at that.”
And surely, the offensive production has been consistent, as the Galvans plus Bryan Garcia and others have been excellent in attack. Econ notched three goals in its first five outings in 31-6A and got four in hammering P-SJ-A last week. In those six contests the Orange surrendered 10 goals, including five in a 5-3 loss to Mission. So Rodriguez was after a more sound defensive effort Tuesday, with the wind to play a significant factor, as it usually does when it is roaring out of the south, as it was on the day.
Econ started against the wind, and as expected, Edinburg enjoyed the situation, rushing to a couple of early chances with the speedy Cristian Castillo out front. To control the tempo a bit, every time the Jags had a restart they continued their penchant for short passes off it, eschewing the long ball and working upfield methodically. But briskly.
EHS though, was getting mammoth free kicks from central defender Dante Luevano, who was to provide at least 10 goal kicks and a few free kicks, with a steady howitzer of a right leg. Boom! It was up to Castillo and brilliant sophomore Jesus “Pollo” Torres to run under the towering blasts, catch them, and do something slick in the box.
The Jags, on the other hand, depended on the elusive Garcia and rangy box-to-box midfielder Rene Galvan to come up, create chances, and track back on defense. Work rate.
When Luevano sent balls zinging into the final third, the Econ defense was on the spot, and early on, Ivan Lugo was a notable Jag performer. Not the tallest center back in the district, Lugo nonetheless holds his own inside using excellent timing and terrific clearances with his head.
In the first stages, the visitor appeared to have opened the scoring on a play that went from J.C. Rios to Garcia, Garcia slipping like a dolphin between clumps of defenders with filthy drops of the shoulder. That magic set up a shot … no goal, it was whistled off, and EHS went back to work.
In the opening 40, the Jags well executed a triangle style passing drill, including lanky defender Erick Obregon in the mix, and Lugo came up with another win in an aerial duel. But the Bobcats threatened when after a bomb from Luevano bolted all the way to keeper Ponciano Vazquez in goal.
Meanwhile, Econ was working up the left now, the clever Obregon releasing to young left winger Jose Villarreal, but the EHS defense was nimble. In response, a subsequent EHS long ball to the midline was caught perfectly by Castillo, who has to be one of the most technically gifted footballers in the league. Trap, turn, and go. Do it, 14.
But so far, neither side had started to dominate.
The Jags wanted to be that side, and almost got there with a marvelous sequence from Randy Galvan, who fielded a throw-in on the left, bounced past a defender with a burst, and broke into the area. His ball for teammate J.C. Rios was nearly put in at 22:45. Defensively for EHS, Miguel Olivares was active in the half, as was strapping Zamid Abundiz, and the latter was to come up from defense into the midfield in the second half. With very little rest, the key for EHS was going to be avoiding fatigue against an Econ crew that will test the opponent’s conditioning and endurance on most nights. Orange got talent, and depth.
The Jags were finding joy off long throws, with Rene on the toss, Randy on the chase, but the ‘Cats were ready, as veteran Cesar Tovar is always a tough customer in the back. At one point, Jesus “Chuy” Gallegos was loose for the Orange on the right, but the goal would not come. Back downfield, Obregon and his mates, including Lugo and Eduardo Leal, were holding the line in front of Vazquez, and the keeper gloved another rocket off the boot of Leuvano on 15 minutes. Could have been a free kick goal.
Rodriguez hollered to his team to play smart out of the back, after a few untimely turnovers, and in attack, the Jags worked from Villarreal to Garcia and then to Randy Galvan, only to see the burly Luevano storm in and break up the dance.
This is when Pollo went into warp drive, bringing the EHS faithful to their feet, though some still stand throughout, as football was back in the day.
First, Torres ran right, to the byline and pulled back a cross stinging past the goal face. Next, he and teammate Andres Valdez combined for a steal in the area, whereupon Torres jolted into the box with the ball, all dangerous … the clever Bobcat 11 deftly induced the goalie out of the crease. This led to a collision in the box, and the official rewarded the ‘Cats with a penalty kick, Torres dispatching with ease, giving Cardenas’ club a 1-nil lead at 7:37 of halftime. Bang!
Late in the period, EHS again came calling, creating a corner as a harried Econ D shuffled and scrambled to defend. On the set piece, Ethan Garcia walloped a shot that was blocked, but Castillo followed up with a quick punch, and it was 2-nil at 5:58; a pair of goals in a pair of minutes, and all of a sudden, the ‘Cats were being very offensive, indeed.
Worst time to surrender a goal? Last 10 minutes.
The Jags, for their part, were suitably shocked. They did manage a last gasp shot as Garcia laid one off to Randy G, whose shot almost went in.
SHOCK AND AWE
Lifted by their twin cannon shots across the Econ bow, the hustling ‘Cats came out of the halftime break on the front foot still, wind or no wind, and if there was one signifier for the night, it was the energy that Cardenas had been conjuring in the pregame chat. The Red and Blue worked hard for 80 minutes, all over the field, as Torres and Garcia, usually known as offensive characters, could be seen coming back to defend with much relish. Torres got in front of Econ’s Gallegos – who has some speed for sure – to stop an Econ advance, and Garcia of the ‘Cats too made his mark on defense, throwing caution to the win on a brave block of a gargantuan blast from Garcia of the Jags. Wham!
With Abundiz now up and running on the right, the ‘Cats kept advancing against the breeze, looking for the goodnight goal, and another long one from Luevano – he can send them into any wind, and pretty far, such is his brutal strength – almost struck the chord.
But the Jags, as befitting a league leader, were just getting started.
The barrel-chested Garcia, who is in the middle of everything the team does, started a run with Gallegos and Rios, but there was passing fancy, slick moves, but few prime chances on goal for the East Siders Tuesday.
Destiny arrived. On 24 minutes, the Bobcats nailed the coffin shut as Castillo raced down right and sliced in a goal for the 3-nil cushion.
Four minutes later, Randy Galvan nearly pulled one back after a dreadful mistake by the Bobcats, but somehow EHS survived, and that’s just the way the night went. Given every chance to quit, mail it in, make excuses, etc., the ‘Cats instead found a way to rise up and play their best football. Very impressive performance given the circumstances.
Down the stretch, Garcia of Econ danced through the D for a shot attempt, but net-minder Kevin Aguilar was on his mark Tuesday for the Bobcats, parrying away a few very strong high balls in the second half, up off the bar. A few other times, the Jags were offside in the promising buildup, and this will happen when a team is forced to press from behind, late.
Thus, the ‘Cats saved their season and are right in the flow of the tournament now, with a key match on the horizon against North Tuesday. First comes a rematch with La Joya, Friday, and while the Coyotes are not invincible, to say the least, they defeated EHS 2-1 the first time the two met, and have swept North, besides.
Econ will reload and be prepared to come back strong with a great week of action. The Jags have the skills to win the trophy, their foes know and fear that. An angry side ready to work and come back hard will be doubly dangerous down the road, shorter though it may be now.
During the match, the injured Cazares of EHS said that he saw more confidence from his teammates.
“I mean, we beat Alexander, it’s a good team we have,” he noted at halftime. “I hope to be able to play soon, my injury wasn’t that bad. I want to get out there and play, we’re playing with a lot of confidence tonight.”
One of the reasons for that cogent interpretation was the skill of Torres, who has come into his own as a leader of the charge as a sophomore. Elegant on the ball, aggressive in taking on defenders, Pollo is a man to watch in the next two seasons-plus. He glides by you … gone. “I have worked really hard to improve and so has the team,” he said after the win. “I think we got tired of losing, we haven’t done that great in some games but we’ve been practicing, training, working on techniques like on corners, stuff like that. We had the effort tonight, we really showed that we wanted to win. And we finished tonight, we got some goals, which is always important to do.”