Got One! Coog Goal-Line Stand Turns Back Memorial
BY GREG SELBER
PHARR – Of all the possible final scenarios Thursday, this one was the most unlikely, so its completion in success for North was that much more vindicating. There were the much-maligned defenders, having allowed 158 points in four losses to date, up against the wall in the closing minutes, with two measly yards behind them and the rampaging Wolverines lining up defiantly in front of them.
Now was the time for a final statement, one way or the other, for a program desperately needing a win to rejoin the conversation about relevance in Valley high school football. So on fourth and goal with 1:37 left, the Coogs rose up and stopped P-SJ-A Memorial cold, getting the ball and the victory, 29-23. When Fernie Garza mishandled the ball, North’s Jacob Salinas was there to cover and the word came out loud and clear. Even after a trying start riddled with mistakes and defensive troubles, the Coogs, a three-time playoff combatant in 2007-2009, are not dead yet. In fact, they’re very much alive, as a 1-1 mark in District 31-5A means gobs more than a 1-4 overall record.
“We never lost faith in our defense, we know that they could do it,” said winning QB Joel Cuellar, who ran a solid show Thursday with a 7-of-11 night through the air, some nifty jukes and runs, and most vitally, zero turnovers. “We have all been making too many mistakes, last week we might have beaten the Bears but I had an interception. So this time we just needed to make all the blood and sweat from practice pay off. The fans have been asking, ‘Are these guys worth it?’ That’s what we had to answer.”
And North has indeed been competitive in 2011, losing in double overtime to Pace, by 10 to Donna, and three against P-SJ-A last week. The Coogs even led vaunted Sharyland at the half before getting blown out down the stretch, so this one against a solid Memorial club was going to have to be the one. No more close ones, no more maybes. This was it.
After rugged little bouncing ball Rollie Borrego (220 yards, three scores) hammered in from the 25 and added the 2-point conversion, North led by the eventual final count of 29-23 with 5:26 left in the game. The teams had gone up and down the field during the first two quarters, to the tune of 44 points (23-21, Wolves at the half) and 475 yards (253 for Memorial, now 0-2, 2-3). So who would have guessed that Borrego’s run would mark the only scratch of the second half?
Try Vince Ortiz.
The junior safety once again showed that he is one of the best tacklers in the Valley, with a dozen licks; his biggest of the night came a play before the pressure fourth-down snap late in the night, and on it, he came up hard to crack D.J. Martinez for a 1-yard gain with help from tackle Adrian Gonzalez. Getting the stop there brought it down to just one play, after the Wolves had ridden a money 49-yard completion from Manny Mancillas to star junior Jaime Borrego (Rollie’s cousin, did you know?) to get into position for the triumph. Ortiz knew what was going to happen, he says.
“We got the first win and we had to have it,“ he said afterward. “We showed what kind of heart we have, we made the adjustments after halftime and we stepped up at the end. We’ve been playing better, we wanted to come out here and make all the hard work pay off. To see the heart and motivation we had to stop them, that’s something special. We had to stop them, that’s all.”
As stated, the first half was a track meet with neither defense doing much more than getting in the way. Memorial’s Borrego (eight catches, 196 yards) is a definite All-Valley candidate and went 49 yards for six on a short screen within the first four minutes, Memorial, fresh off a narrow loss to Pharr North in the closing minutes, started against the other North with a flourish.
But the Coogs, whose 47-44 loss to the Bears last week dropped them into a must-win situation too, responded with a 7-play, 75-yard drive behind its mammoth line led by senior college prospect Rudy Trevino, a 300-pound smasher. Borrego popped for a 20-yard gain and Tevin Brown added a leaping catch-and-run for 33, leading to a 16-yard touchdown from Cuellar to Mike Hinojosa, a spirited senior who has been saddled with injuries but is a key piece of the puzzle when healthy.
Later, the Wolves took the lead at 14-7 with 10 seconds left in the opening stanza as Garza ran 35 yards for a score. Memorial picked up 394 yards total, with 258 coming off the arm of Mancillas, who is coming on every week.
Back came North, with The Other Borrego accounting for 58 rushing yards and the tying 12-yard scamper on a 9-play, 73-yard march. The visitor pounded it all night with the home side relying on strikes by J. Borrego. But the Green also showed the ability to drive, following with a 78-yard march in seven snaps, a 33-yard gain and subsequent personal foul on North setting up a 2-yard punch from Martinez to make it 20-14 at 5:52. Your neck sore from this tennis match, too?
Then North illustrated why this season has been so promising but as frustrating, cruising to the go-ahead TD with 33 seconds left but somehow then allowing the Wolves to come down and kick a field goal with no time left. Actually, they got two tries at it, because after missing from 45, there was a reprieve as North ran into the kicker. The 39-yarder from Martin Rivera went through, capping a terrible last half-minute during which the Coogs gave up a huge gainer to Borrego and another personal foul, one of five major flags tossed at them on the night.
With Memorial ahead 23-21 at the half, it seemed like P-SJ-A all over again for North; for the Wolves, their 23 points was six more than last week’s final total in a loss against the Raiders that had slipped away in the final minutes.
In short, both teams needed to make a stand Thursday, with a wide-open race in parity-fueled 31-5A all but begging them to come on in from oblivion and take part.
OUCH, DON’T LOOK
And they both would like to find a deep hole in which to bury the film from the third period, like forever. North started with a motion penalty and a sack from Memorial’s senior LB Edgar Cisneros (10 tackles). Then Memorial was handed a gift when the punt snap went way over Reyes Espino and the Wolves took over at the North 18.
Early in the third, with the momentum there to take, they could not do it, as two hits from senior Keith Silva of North and an illegal block penalty led to a missed field goal.
North made one first down before a holding call forced a punt, which Borrego returned to the enemy 48. Again, however, Coach Gus Cavazos’ squad, somewhat challenged with injuries and youthful inexperience so far in 2011, could not convert. They ran two plays but fumbled, with sophomore linebacker Lupe Quintero finding the loose ball near midfield. Man, this is not that good.
Cuellar and Company advanced to the 28 of Memorial but they too missed a field goal, as the sharp pace and execution of the first half withered on the vine of ineptitude. Early in the fourth the Wolves threatened again, making it to the 35 of North before a holding call and fumble collapsed things. The turnover came on fourth down with Thomas Leyva, a linebacker who had been out with an injury, making his triumphant return to the lineup with the recovery.
So the second half had been brutal, each team shut out, and the no-so-running tally still at plus-2, Wolverines. With time wasting, the Coogs, who have not had trouble moving the ball this season, just in avoiding miscues at the wrong time, came up roses.
Cuellar found Hinojosa for a 26-yard gain and in four plays, that shutout business was a memory when Borrego blasted through the line, raced toward the goal, and dived in for what would be the winning six. The three-year starter broke 100 for the third contest in a row, following 119 in the loss to Donna and 175 last week against the Bears.
He’s all of 5-foot-3 but mighty stout, making his living snaking into holes behind the hosses up front and exploding into the secondary. Borrego has superb balance and will take a hit, often using the contact like an expert in judo, as energy to burn after spinning and twisting free from tacklers.
At this stage, Coach Roy Garza of North had to be wondering, as were all the program’s rooters, if it were all going to end in sorrow again, with the beleaguered defense heading back out to work.
But the Coogs had an ace to play, and came up with the thrilling goal-line stand that may have turned the season around. It didn’t come easily, as the cool Mancillas led his group down close to the win. But it came nonetheless. Fourth and two with the chips on the table, and North cleaned up.
“We needed this, no doubt about it,” said Garza, who’s built the long-suffering Coogs into a solid contender, one that set a school record with a three-deep playoff trip in 2009 before sliding into the pits of hell last year with a 1-9 performance. “The defense was able to bear down when it counted, they made several good stops in the second half, when it looked like Memorial was going to get some easy points.”
The veteran Garza knew coming in that despite having been within hailing distance to several W’s, his club had to get one Thursday. Had to.
“This was big, and now we can say we can go out there and know how to win,” he explained, as the Coogs get set for the annual City Cat Fight against Edinburg High Oct. 7. “We should have won a few of the games before this but we just made too many mistakes. Tonight we found a way to win and that’s sometimes difficult, because you can’t coach it. The kids just have to go out there and make plays when they need to, and tonight we were fortunate enough to make that happen. Now we can start a run toward the playoffs.”
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Alvarez leads Hidalgo past Juarez Lincoln
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956sports.com
LA JOYA – Hidalgo coach Robin Kirk didn’t try hiding the obvious following Thursday night’s 21-7 victory over La Joya Juarez-Lincoln.
Instead, Kirk admitted the win at La Joya ISD Stadium will go a long way for his program, which had to endure an unfortunate chaotic start to the season. Hidalgo quarterback Michael Alvarez threw two touchdowns and the Pirates defense forced three Huskies turnovers that helped Hidalgo notch its first victory of the season.
“It was a great win for us, obviously. I’m stating the obvious there,” Kirk said. “It’s a lot more than just a win for us in Hidalgo right now. We’ve had a lot of adversity, obviously, for the past seven weeks.
The big thing is our kids never wavered. They kept fighting even after we got beat bad (two weeks ago), but they came back. We were resilient. They came out, got after it and took care of business.”
The Pirates entered Thursday’s District 32-4A matchup reeling from their 55-7 loss to Edcouch-Elsa two weeks ago. That came a few days after Hidalgo was hit with their second violation of the season for using an ineligible player during its season-opening loss at La Feria. The Pirates forfeited that game after the District 32-4A Executive Committee’s ruling.
But on Thursday, Hidalgo showed why it might have finally moved on. Kirk after the game praised his team for its focus and determination, despite past distractions.
“I’m going to tell them how proud I am of them,” Kirk said. “Not just because of this win. They came out, they kept coming to practice, they kept working, they took the criticism and they didn’t give in.”
The Pirates backed up their coach’s words on the game’s opening play when Alvarez connected with Daniel Dougherty for a 76-yard touchdown. Alvarez surpassed the 100-yard passing mark on only his second attempt and finished with 224 yards on 12-of-24 passing with two interceptions.
Given his team’s troubled start to the season, Alvarez knew just how much a victory was needed to restore confidence back in the Pirates.
“We had to win for our school, our town, our coaches and overall for the Pirates,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez threw his second touchdown with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter when he found a wide-open Silvestre Gutierrez for 29 yards that gave the Pirates the lead for good at 14-0.
“I think if we keep improving, we have a shot to be pretty darn good,” Kirk said.
The Pirates defense was just that.
Other than the Huskies’ late touchdown with 23 seconds remaining, Hidalgo shut down Juarez-Lincoln. The Pirates sacked Huskies quarterback Michael Rodriguez five times and defensive back Oscar Ruiz picked off Rodriguez and recovered a fumble in the second quarter that killed a Juarez-Lincoln (1-5, 1-3) drive inside the Pirates’ 10. Linebacker Joseph Marquez’s fumble recovery in the third quarter led to his own 4-yard touchdown for a 21-0 Hidalgo lead.
“It’s good to have our first win here,” Ruiz said. “We all worked hard this week to win this game.”
The win moves Hidalgo (1-4, 1-2) into a three-way tie for fifth place in District 32-4A and should Weslaco East defeat Roma today the Pirates would be tied for the district’s final playoff spot.
Though five weeks remain, a single win now has Kirk and the Pirates back in playoff consideration, what seemed like a far-fetched thought just two weeks ago. And although Kirk realizes how wide open District 32-4A looks at this point, on Thursday night the only thing that mattered was what gave Hidalgo hope again.
“We still have a long way to go, but it doesn’t matter,” Kirk said. “Tonight we won and that’s what counts. It’s a great feeling. I’ve got a lot of wins in my life as a head coach and this one is really satisfying.”
Harlingen’s Two Schools
Despite my love of gadgets and technology, (I just preordered a Kindle Fire), I often pine for the old days when it comes to sports.
I’m sorry I wasn’t covering high school sports when only one team made the playoffs from each district. I also missed the era when most of the towns in the Valley only had one high school.
My first year in the Valley was the first year the Harlingen South Hawks took the field.
I can remember numerous complaints from the rabid Cardinal fans about favoritism towards little brother. We weren’t trying to play favorites, we were just trying to cover the new boys in town and that resources had to be split. After always having their own beat-writer, the fact they didn’t must have seemed something of a blow to the Cardinal faithful.
Both schools have enjoyed a fair amount of success in athletics since then. Although, the Cardinals hold the edge on the gridiron.
However, when schools are split, the local elite tends to have deeper ties to the old school.
There’s an example of that just north of San Antonio. For a long time, Clemens was the only high school in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, but as expansion of facilities at Fort Sam Houston and its huge hospital began – the population of that formerly sleepy area started to expand resulting in a new high school – Steele, which grew rapidly and won the Class 5A state championship last season.
This year, the school board, decided to transfer 250 students from Steele to Clemens and also re-route some middle school students the same way. Nobody has said anything about it being because of football, but the timing of the matter has raised a few eyebrows.
It’s quite possible to imagine something similar happening in Harlingen, if the Hawks had jumped out of the gate like Steele.
One school towns are a rarity in the Valley as population grows exponentially.
I always think La Joya had the right approach by splitting into three schools.
Edinburg North vs PSJA Memorial
Edinburg North and PSJA Memorial are looking for their first district victory tonight at PSJA Stadium.Share this post:
Step At A Time: Resurgent Rio Prepares For War With 32-4A Powers
BY GREG SELBER
Every year some of his old college teammates from Austin College make the pilgrimage down to South Texas to see his ball team play. And the fact that he still has such awesome camaraderie with a group of pals from 20-plus years ago has made a lasting impact on Carlos Longoria.
“That’s a big deal to me, because many of them are living all over the United States,” said the Rio Grande City head coach. “It reminds me of the time reporters asked Tom Osborne of Nebraska what it was like after he won the national championship. Coach said that he’d been to the mountaintop, and there was nothing there. What he remembered was the blood, sweat and tears in practice, the rides to and from the games, and seeing his players come together as a team. That made a big impression on me.”
After his Rattler team has rattled off a three-game winning streak in his debut season out west, Longoria can say that as the season progresses, his unit is starting to build the sort of character through tests of fire that its members will be able to use their entire lives.
“The kids are doing it, they are learning the system, it’s all mental for us, always has been,” he said, following last week’s dominating performance against area rival Roma in a key 32-4A contest that gained Rio significant buzz around the Valley. “But more than that, we are starting to see steady progress all around, and to me, that’s the deal. I tell my kids if they go out there and do what they can do, make the best effort they can, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. We have faced some adversity and the kids haven’t folded, they have embraced the challenge and I feel like they are showing a lot of character.”
It was going to take more than a little bit of that element after a dreary 1-9 season in 2010 and a 0-2 start to this one. The Rattlers began with a 41-0 blowout defeat to Palmview (“We just went out there and forgot everything, it was like a Chinese fire drill”) and then suffered a narrow loss to La Joya in which they had a chance late but saw the winning TD pass called back on a penalty and then a pick to end it.
Longoria made sure to commiserate with his quarterback, converted linebacker Jeremy Rodriguez, telling the 185-pound senior that no one wins or loses a game by himself. For his part, JRod has not flinched, win or lose, said his mentor.
“I am so proud of that kid, because he had a lot of work to do, having never played the position,” said Longoria, a Hidalgo grad on his third head coaching stint after successful runs at Raymondville and Mission Vets. “He has come back in subsequent games and corrected his mistakes. Right now he is reading the defense, making calls at the line, and really leading us.”
THE CLIMB BEGINS
Rio got on the right track with Ws against Valley View and Mercedes, rising to 2-2. The Rattlers trailed the Tigers 14-7 before scoring a late TD in the second period; on the play, Rodriguez went to speedy Orly Oviedo for 38 yards and when the latter fumbled, Sergio Trevino was there to recover in the end zone, a magical moment that eventually led to victory. Mercedes then fell 39-28 as Rio churned up and down the field with ease, as it became more comfortable with the wide-open attack Longoria has installed.
Then it was time to gird for Roma, another Starr County club that has improved greatly in 2011 and came into the match at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium wanting to clobber its neighbor. For the first time in many moons, Starr County was one of the epicenters of Friday Night Light, Valley style.
“I have to say, we were more prepared, focused for that game than any team I have been associated with in over 20 years as a coach,” Longoria beamed.
After trading the lead in the first half the Rattlers got a key TD pass before halftime from Rodriguez to Ivan Amador, after a great throw to Cesar Alaniz had set it up. From there they dismantled the Gladiators 61-28, scoring 60 points for the first time since 1993 against Pharr North (61-12 win). They put 23 on the board in the second period with Rodriguez going 15 for 20 and kids flying out of the woodwork to make play after vital play. Lopez galloped for 91 yards and crafty possession receiver Roman Salinas made six catches.
This was the game where a 2-point conversion right before the half, the famous “Coach’s Nightmare” that Longoria learned from mentor Jim Hite at Raymondville, made the scene, to much publicity around the Valley media. Rugged back Darryl Lopez tossed the ball backward over his head with his back to the line, and the unorthodox completion acted as the final spark Rio needed to torch the Gladiators after intermission.
All of a sudden, the sky seemed the limit for a long struggling program whose last playoff victory came during the three-deep glory season of 1998. As District 32-4A has become a real dogfight for spots behind league favorites Weslaco East and Edcouch-Elsa, the Rattlers, with a bye week ahead before an all-important road trip to East, are right there in the picture.
Longoria would quibble with two parts of the previous statement.
“First off, we have goals, one to make the playoffs and the other to win district,” he noted. “You are doing a disservice to your kids if you prepare them to believe they are competing for anything less. That means although we are going up against one of the best teams in the Valley, we are going over there to win. If we fall short, but give all we have, that’s OK, but make no mistake, we never go into game thinking we won’t win.”
The other point: this is a long haul, and Rio will advance to the next challenge after East, with goals intact for the measure of the campaign.
“This is how it works,” Longoria explained. “We wanted the kids to celebrate after they beat Roma, because it was a big deal and they needed to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But now that we are preparing for East, Roma is the past, and the kids understand that.”
To the coach, all these points on the curve are adding up to a line longer than simply sports.
“We have rebounded and shown improvement week to week, and we are starting to get healthy, the bye week will help us do that,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go, we’ve done something so far but I do not want us staying in that comfort space, we have to move forward.”
In essence, Longoria is teaching what he learned at Austin College and something that has always come in handy in his travels.
“Two things you can control, attitude and effort, and if the kids give their all, good things can happen. But what I am most proud of is that the guys are beginning to grow and change from the inside out. They are working hard, having fun, and showing what they are capable of. They’re unified. As educators, we cannot ask for anything more, they can’t pay us enough for that. It’s priceless.”
The Rattlers can get up and down the field with the Spread offense, a new look for a program that has been an old-fashioned running team for most of its long history. Rodriguez and the offensive notables are running the new set better every week, and have become adept at crossing play-side action to spring misdirection plays into the open spots. They also employ motion (usually Lopez) to confuse defenders and set up all kinds of kinks and wrinkles from multiple angles.
It is easy to do that when you have power and speed like Rio does. The power is senior runner Lopez, who scored four times against Roma after having been slowed by a deep thigh bruise in preceding weeks.
“That’s ‘The Diesel, he’s really good,’” Longoria said of the 205-pound battering ram. “He also has good hands and vision, and runs hard. But he can also run away from you, he was the anchor on the 4×100 relay team last year. So he isn’t slow.”
The speed is another trackman, lightning-quick senior Orly Oviedo, a waterbug who can find the crack and exploit it with surprising force considering his slim build. He leads the team in catches and is a threat to go all the way every time he touches.
“We have some good weapons on offense,” agreed the coach, mentioning Alaniz and Joe Galvan as other receivers who have enjoyed considerable success on hookups from Rodriguez, a very accurate passer who is coming into his own at the right time.
“They are seeing things on the field now, and Jeremy especially, so that they can go up to the line and pick out a play, we have started to run 60 or 70 percent automatics right now, and that is a sign of learning.”
Longoria says the O-line has gotten better every day, and he praised its members
“If I had to pick out a few guys, maybe our senior guards, Luis Sanchez and Epi Chavera, they have done a great job so far…they all have, though.”
Defensively, Rio has been solid if unspectacular, with a horse up front in 245-pound lineman Ryan Garcia, and a hustling little cat at linebacker. Danny Garcia stands about 5-foot-5, but he has some bulk and will run and strike all night. He showed that against Roma, with quarterback pressures, hard hits in the middle, and a number of plays where he chased down pass receivers in the secondary. He’s a prime example of where Rio is at five games in: total effort, commitment to the program, and the will to play harder when the game gets close. The Underdog as Overachiever.
“So many ways we have shown improvement, from the veterans to the new kids,” Longoria said. “And when we have had some injuries, guys have stepped in and stepped up. We tell our kids that we have to keep moving, and that means everyone has to be ready to play.”
Before the Roma contest dawned, the Rattlers were clicking so well that the coaches cut their last couple of workouts short because they knew the crew was absolutely prepared.
“The hay was in the barn, you know what I mean? We were ready,” Longoria recalled. “That is the way it works when your kids are buying into the system, learning it, and using it, owning it. I don’t know what’s going to happen against East, they have a terrific program going over there and I go a ways back with their coach, Armando Cuellar. Got a lot of respect for that they have been able to do.
“Here we have a chance to compete in a big game, the kind of game a team wants to be in. Our kids here are starting to realize what they can accomplish, they’re seeing the big picture of the whole season unfolding. We respect East but we don’t fear them, and that’s the way it needs to be. We know that the outcome never truly determines who you are…the effort you put in does that. And yet, as I say, we are definitely going over there to win.”Share this post:
Plays of Week 4
POW 4 Matthew Kauffman
Highlights and Previews From The Football Wars
BY GREG SELBER
TURN BACK THE CLOCK
Noticed that the Class of 1972 from P-SJ-A is having a reunion this season, and good for that. Most people love to get the gang back together and see who got fat, fatter, married, and otherwise. If the hard-bitten Austin Lanier class of my year were to hang out, the dance would have to be held in Hunstville, if you know what I mean. Puro ghetto, cabron.
At any rate, that class of ’72 had to suffer through the Bear heartbreak of 1971, when the football team went 9-0-1 and DIDN’T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS.
The 1971 Bears were probably the best team in Valley history not to get to the postseason, after they scored 176 points and allowed just 13, or one touchdown and two field goals.
This was back in the day when only one group advanced past the regular season, and in ’71, District 28-4A was a dogfight from the opening bell. Edinburg and P-SJ-A battled to a scoreless tie in the opener, and after that, neither team was blemished. The Bobcats won the penetration fight against P-SJ-A and eventually ended up moving on, only to lose to a formidable Alice team, 21-0 in bi-district.
So, after beginning the season with six straight shutouts, the Bears stayed home. The next time somebody starts crying about his team’s bad luck, remind him of the 1971 P-SJ-A juggernaut that wasn’t. That should shut home boy up.
The Bears of today gained their first scratch of the year Thursday with a 47-44 road win against Edinburg North, getting the running game untracked and starting 31-5A play with a much-needed victory, Economedes on the horizon. Two notes from that entertaining win: Junior Deandre Henry continues to show that on any given play he can provide a “how did he do that?” highlight. Thursday it was a slick stop-and-start 18-yard run against the Coogs on which he halted on a dime, hopped quickly on one foot and, before the defense could assimilate such a deft display of athleticism, hit second gear in an instant to slide past two onrushing defenders. He is something else.
Two, Coach Mel Rios is so smart it’s almost silly. After pounding Josh Castor and unleashing the mercurial Henry all night to the tune of almost 400 yards rushing, Rios had the X Factor waiting in the wings, Noel Zuniga. No. 30 had been saved for much of the night but with the Bears needing to run out the clock and preserve a 3-point lead, he went to work on the final drive, slicing off a 16-yard first down that sealed the deal.
There is, we are reminded, no substitute for quality depth, especially when an adept leader can call upon fresh legs when the rest of the kids are wilting late.
This week marks a fascinating collision over in 30-5A, with the Sharyland Rattlers waiting on Donna to come to town. Both teams are 1-0, 4-0, and despite the loss of quarterback Dion Padilla, the Redskins are in position to compete, and compete hard, against the jazzy Sharyland attack.
Smaller and faster than in past seasons, Donna will have a full task on its plate versus a club that is scoring in bunches (a 31-point quarter against Rowe) and making an excellent defensive statement so far. The ‘Skins will have to practice sure tackling because the explosive Rattler skill guys can break a hold and score…now!
And then there’s Palmview, which is showing no ill effects in 2011 without Javier Femat, and that is one of the big surprises of the year. The Lobos are on fire right now defensively after holding Mission to one TD in a 25-7 victory over the weekend. As appears to be the Valley theme of the year, that unit is not terribly enormous but is good at gang-tackling and coming up with key stops when necessary. Look out for Enrique Escontrias, who had five tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception versus Mission.
Now it’s time to see how the 1-0, 3-1 Lobos react to being the favorite, as they play against struggling La Joya this time out. The mark of a playoff team is taking care of business, and this is a winnable game for Palmview. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be great for La Joya if it could come up with the upset? This is going to be nasty from the opening kick, with obvious ‘hood bragging rights at stake.
YEAH, REALLY…THAT GOOD
Oh that Harlingen. To note that the Cards were up 42-0 against Edinburg in the third quarter shouldn’t surprise anyone, but still…damn. No hangover from the Abilene glory road. Harlingen dominated the Bobcats from the word go, and its athletic flying circus on offense is going to be nearly impossible to stop for 31-5A. Now, how did Judson do this weekend? Man, they clobbered Madison, 48-7. The anticipation builds.
The Bobcats have to be able to dust themselves off and get with the program next week, after consecutive losses. Dropping contests against McAllen Memorial and Harlingen is no cause for shame, and consider that in 2010 EHS started 0-2 and ended 10-3. But this week’s game at Cats Stadium with Pharr North has to be a point of emphasis. The Raiders are quietly 3-1 after coming from behind to nip P-SJ-A Memorial 21-17, with fine athletic specimen Austin Navarro making the plays down the stretch. The more the Raiders can get Marcos Davila into the parade, the better.
EHS QB Alex Cantu was injured against Harlingen, note.
We were all over the Weslaco-Los Fresnos crash Friday night, and it was a very entertaining, old-fashioned slobberknocker. Both came out of the night in good shape, though Los Fresnos is going to have to get better at tossing the ball. For that matter, the Panthers did not complete a pass, and somewhere along the line, they will also have to do that. Running the ball is beautiful and all, but seriously. Some time, somewhere, these two impressive bulls are going to take occasional flight, or perish.
Next week brings Pace-San Benito, and each did yeoman’s work in Week Four, the Vikings blasting Lopez 34-0 and the Greyhounds clocking Rivera, 55-7. These two are a lot alike, with the ability to score fast and underrated defenses. This one has the potential to be a Game of the Week down at Sams.
San Benito got a kickoff return TD to start the ball rolling against Rivera and the added a blocked punt six to roll up an early 20-0 advantage. That type of shock therapy in the key games can spell w-i-n.
Well, it appears that we all had the wrong Cinderella story working, yawl. After Rio Grande City slapped an amazing 61 points on Roma over the weekend, the Rattlers are 3-0 in District 32-4A, and the slipper fits in Starr County. Add in La Grulla’s convincing 35-13 demolition of dangerous Lyford the same night, and it’s good times all around out west. The Gators (3-1) handled passing king Jacob Lerma easily, holding him to 12 of 35 and picking him four times. Any early votes for Coach of the Year? Carlos Longoria and Abel Gonzalez, looking like solid bets to date.
It’s always a fun night when Edcouch-Elsa and Mercedes tangle, and this season the matchup got more enticing when the Tigers performed well in getting their first win, over foundering Vets. Armed with that momentum, the Tigers bring their old buddies over to the bullring for another mano a mano situation. Even though they lost versatile veteran Emir Alcala to injury in a 41-0 whipping of Lincoln, the Yellowjackets have weapons to burn and this season are churning up the grass with multiple big plays per week.
It’s going to be tough to stay with them for any 32-4A team outside of Weslaco East, but with the improvement Rio had made, maybe the Rattlers can do it. Plus, do not discount the rivalry factor here. If Mercedes can hang onto the ball better than it did in a loss to East, it could make things interesting in front of a madcap home crowd Friday.
It wasn’t a highlight reel job but it worked, as Rio Hondo climbed to 3-2 with a gutsy 7-0 win against Raymondville. The Bearkats have the defense to vie for district honors and are working on getting kids out of the training room and onto the field before 32-5A action commences in earnest soon.
Or not soon enough.
Not sure how you feel, but The Observer is no fan of the smaller district size at the lower levels. Conference play does not begin until Oct. 7, and it’s tough to keep getting the kids up for non-district yawners more than halfway into the schedule. This week it’s La Feria at La Villa and Brownsville Veterans (hey, nice win against La Villa, Chargers…55 points worth) down near the beach against PI. But that’s it, two games.
They need to bring back Lyford and Raymondville from Brush Country exile, although the bureaucratic reasoning behind realignment is unassailable from the UIL’s standpoint…but them are Valley schools, you know it.
When 3A league play does arrive, it will be good, with Zapata-PI, Rio Hondo-Progreso, and La Feria-La Grulla on tap to commence. Third one has the charm in that trio of tries. While you’re pondering the answer to the Small District Dilemma, work on this one too…how did Topsiders come back into fashion as footwear among the young females of our species? We hated those things way back in the day. Still do.Share this post:
Brandon Wooten Mercedes Tigers Interview
Edinburg vs Harlingen Highlights
The Champ Wins A Decision: Weslaco Fights Off Strong Challenge From Falcons
BY GREG SELBER
WESLACO – Several members of the defense were a bit late wiggling out of the congratulatory snakeline along the bleachers. So when Tommy Chavez and Jose Montiel, with Jacob Grimaldo along too, got into the team line for the school song, most of the age-old homage to dear ol’ Weslaco had been sung.
The Weslaco defense rose up to stop Los Fresnos on a last-ditch drive with the outcome on the line at Bobby Lackey Stadium, the Falcons penetrating to the Purple 37 before a pair of 10-yard sacks ended the upset attempt. Thus, despite giving up two long touchdown runs, the Weslaco D, among the best in the Valley so far in 2011, had done the job in the clutch.
Thanks to two long-distance TDs of their own, one from quarterback Carlos Madrigal and the other from Brandon Arce, the Panthers stood down a stern test from the Falcons, now 0-1, 3-1.
Having driven for what was to be the winning six midway through the fourth period, the home side relied on its mammoth front four and speed from the back seven to hold off Los Fresnos, which hung in there and made a fine account of itself in this highly anticipated matchup of unbeatens, this Game of the Week.
When junior Jonmichael Rosales was corralled for big losses on consecutive snaps (the first a bad one in the grass), it was done, and Coach Tony Villarreal of Weslaco was pleased, and a little relieved.
“Hey, give all the credit in the world to Los Fresnos, they hung tough and they really schemed well tonight,” said the veteran mentor, whose bunch outhit the Falcons in the first half and did enough on offense to take the W. “They play real football, they’re quick and they’re well coached. They broke a couple of long ones but I think we were a little more systematic, we just came forward and tried to slice them up.”
With Montiel and Grimaldo forcing from the ends and linebackers Ernesto Tafolla and Chavez taking turns teeing off along with aggresive DB Joe Estevanes, Weslaco limited the Falcons to 134 yards aside from 90- and 83-yard runs by Los Fresnos’ squatty star runner, Eduardo Ramirez. Estevanes made two jarring hits and lost his helmet in the process, but the Falcons did their share of popping Friday as well. Before an enormous and enthusiastic Lackey house, these two 32-5A rivals gave the rooters their money’s worth with a tense, physical engagement that ended as many suspected it might: Weslaco, but real close.
Grimaldo, a marauding presence at 6-foot-4 who has excellent speed, said that the game-plan was simple coming in: be physical.
“Hit them in the mouth from the first play, be physical, that’s where we were at,” he said. “And the other thing is, play for each other, like brothers. We’re not into stats, we just go after the guy with the ball, and whoever gets him, gets him.”
The Panthers couldn’t get to Ramirez, who burst 83 yards for the end zone on the first play of the game to stun the Purple throng. Later he would contribute a 93-yard dash on the same basic blast left, but Grimaldo, who had one of the team’s four sacks and forced another with a terrific rush up field to set up Montiel, noted that even with those twin bombs, the Panthers never lost faith.
“We saw that, and we just figured OK, no more,” he informed. “We had to shut them down after that and we did.”
CONTACT FROM THE GET-GO
During the warm-ups Friday, the Falcons seemed loose and fired up, with Weslaco more reserved. The Panthers practiced their usual pregame machinations by coming out in raggedy, unmarked practice jerseys to assure anonymity. And Villarreal, who has more tricks up his sleeve than the average magician, was moving at a fast pace, directing, fiddling, and looking for the edge he always homes in on with fierce concentration.
But when it began, Los Fresnos had the first ace.
In starting 3-0, Clint Finley’s young club has made a habit of breaking the lengthy ones, and it is also getting more cerebral by the week. The Falcs burned a timeout before the first play, as they stood at the line seeing what Weslaco was up to, getting feedback from the side, and eventually looking for too long. But when they did get the snap off, they had checked into a play away from strength, and the stocky Ramirez took off down the left sideline without as much as being breathed on to make it 7-0 Los Fresnos with 20 seconds gone. Wowsers!
Weslaco, which of course has its own high-flying offensive reputation, countered nicely on its fourth play from scrimmage, as Brandon Arce, like Ramirez a solidly built back, steamed 71 yards to the Good Place for the 7-7 tie at 9:40.
What’s this, a track meet between these rugged playoff regulars? Not so fast. Everyone expected a quick-firing game with many runs and few passes, and that’s what they got. When Weslaco tried a pass soon after the two home runs, it was intercepted by a leaping Akeem Simien. That was about it for the aerial attack by the Panthers.
Los Fresnos would complete four balls for all of 25 yards and this one settled into the answering of a question Finley had asked midweek: Who’s tougher?
The answer at first was Weslaco, as the Panthers came to deliver a blow time and time again. Los Fresnos gradually warmed to the contact, with junior LB Carlos Castillo, senior DB Alejandro Lopez, and senior end Jesse Purata each getting in a couple of righteous licks.
After a second-quarter drive stalled near midfield, Los Fresnos pinned the foe back at its own 9, and looked to take a field-position advantage. But the Panthers struck like lightning, as Jon Montes ripped off a 26-yard gain. Then Madrigal took off around left end and jetted 65 yards for the go-ahead six, at 10:31 of the period.
Came the Falcons on the march, 11 plays to the 16 of Weslaco, but from there, hope faded rapidly. Making the key stop to turn away the Falcons was huge No. 74, Miguel Rodriguez. Better known as one of the Valley’s elite offensive tackles, he did double-duty Friday and hauled down Ramirez for no-gain on second and nine. Los Fresnos ended up missing a field goal from 34 yards out, marking one of the vital junctures of the proceedings.
“That’s something new, but I like it,” said the 310-pound senior, who has had to pick up some slack on the offensive side following the loss of outstanding guard Rudy Sanchez to a season-ending injury. “They told me they would put me in there if they needed me, and I was glad to play some defense.”
Play, he did, with the stop of the half, and it looked like Weslaco would come down in the waning minutes and pad the 14-7 lead. Howevah, after reaching the Los Fresnos 45 with 41 seconds left, the Panthers dropped it on the turf and junior end J.J. Hernandez was alert and in possession. Finley has gotten some great play from underclassmen this year, as sophomore Mingo Hernandez would come on to have a whale of a second half; he slices in like an eagle from the outside linebacker slot, playing with a lot of fire and enthusiasm…home boy looks like he’s having a party out there.
By the half, Weslaco had amassed 241 rushing yards but the two turnovers had kept it from getting more than 14 points. Los Fresnos, thanks to the cross-country voyage from Ramirez (251 yards total on 17 carries, the second time the team has claimed a 200-yard performance after Chris Galarza did it against P-SJ-A) and some heady defensive work, was right there.
To begin the third it was Weslaco that went for the field-position edge that was so important in a ball-control battle that each coach sought to wage. The Panthers made two first downs and then punted down to the LF 7, a perfect job of booting by Servando Cruz, who also had a fine night in the secondary.
But again, there was Ramirez, gone, gone, gone, bolting left behind the first-cabin O-line. Ninety-three yards later, this baby was tied at 14. With 7:35 to go in the quarter, new life for Los Fresnos, indeed.
“They had those two big plays but we never wavered from our goal to come out and blow them off the line,” Villarreal said. “The defense eventually earned their money tonight.”
Seeking to regain the mojo, Weslaco set off again, working its size advantage against the small but quick Los Fresnos D. The Panthers got seven plays into it but stalled out after a holding call and some sure tackles from Purata.
Again it was Cruz rattling a punt inside the Los Fresnos 5, and from the 3, Finley’s offense, which used two QBs on the night, was in a Danger Zone situation. But shifty Freddy Becerra converted a third-down try on a keeper to gain some working room. Later the visitor would misfire on a punt for just 16 yards, setting up the Purple at its own 42.
Now was the time for a Top 10 team to drive for the winning score, unless a Top 10 team was going to be able to stop it. Don’t you just love these tilts? This one lived up to all the hype, with a super-noisy atmosphere and two hungry squads running and hitting all night.
One can always count on Coach Tony to spring some shenanigans, though he likes to save the real mind-bending Monkey Business for late in the fall. He will tell you that when he knows future opponents will be all over Weslaco game films like a pair of pants, he goes easy on unveiling the playbook in the early going.
Still, the signature snap of the winning sequence came with a clever end-around to Matt Alvarez, resulting in a 41-yard sprint down to the Los Fresnos 17. Soon after, Madrigal, a play after being slammed for a 5-yard loss by junior linebacker Joe Perez, got to run the sprint-out again, this time coming right and putting his club in the lead 21-14 with an 11-yard run at the 6:10 mark of the night.
“Our quarterback play was good tonight, Madrigal ran a long one and then at the end he came through again,” said Villarreal, whose team will prepare for a road game against winless Porter Saturday night while the Falcons welcome Lopez to town Friday. “We try not to use him that much because we have so many backs to carry the ball. But he can run it, don’t kid yourself.”
The Falcons had played error-free football for the most part to this stage, though their offensive groove seemed to be intermittent as they negotiated the learning curve of copious signals and last-second checks from the sideline. But now they committed a miscue that in hindsight might not have been, had it not been for a fateful official’s decision on the ensuing kickoff. Junior return man Omar Puente appeared to be down by contact before he lost the ball at his own 30, but the arbiter’s adjudication went against him, and Weslaco took over amid a cry of joy from the home faithful.
Once again, however Los Fresnos showed that it is much more than just a high-octane offensive unit, holding Weslaco to a field-goal miss at 3:11. Tackle Joe Martinez stuffed the middle on one key result, while Perez unleashed a punishing lick on Montes.
Down to their last gasp, the Falcons patiently moved the ball downfield, mainly with the run and some nifty clock management from the coach. Villarreal quipped after the game that Finley, son of legendary Texas high school coach Mickey Finley, is more than a match for any coach.
“That guy has been coaching since he was 3 years old, you know that, right? How can I compete with that? Seriously, I though Clint and his staff schemed an excellent game, they really did tonight. It was a damn good football game and both teams played well.”
But the rub was the clock, and with time of the essence, the Falcons had to put it up, and that is something that they still would rather not do so far in 2011. After the twin sacks by that intense Weslaco D, the denoument was in the books, Los Fresnos having gotten as close as the 37 before falling short.
Still it was an encouraging night for the young Lower Valley kids, who came west to take on one of the Valley’s best. They proved that they can be counted in that conversation of dangerous clubs who will have a heckuva lot to say about the 32-5A race before it’s all said and done.
As for the Panthers, who did what they had to do when it was called for, Villarreal admits that his offense is without the game-breakers of the past like Mishak Rivas and John Rojas. They are a workmanline squad wanting to assert superior strength and size at the point of attack and then play good, hard defense.
Much has been made so far of the potential shift in 2011 power from perennial leader 31-5A to newly impressive 30 and 32. If Friday’s brawl at Bobby Lackey was an indication, we might be seeing more 32-5A wins in the postseason than in the recent past, come November.Share this post:
The Huddle Episode 8
Tony Forina and the huddle will have Dr. Kip Owens, Eddi Canales from Gridiron Heroes and coaches from across the Rio Grande Valley.Share this post:
Mercedes vs Mission Vets Full Game
Roma vs Rio Grande Full Game
Alex Del Barrio leads our broadcast of 32-4A football with the Roma Gladiators and Rio Grande Rattlers.
Sharyland vs Rowe Highlights
Q&A Matthew Kaufman McAllen Memorial
956sports.com: What do you listen to before a game to get pumped up?
MK: I listen to old rock that my dad used to lift weights to when he was in high school. like Def Leppard and Godsmack.
Favorite Movie: The Gladiator.
Favorite Music Artist: Blink 182
Favorite Football Player:Tim Tebow. He’s left handed and number 15
Favorite NFL Team: I’ve loved the Denver Broncos ever since I saw John Elway play when I was little.
Favorite College: I love all of them. haha, Don’t have a favorite yet.
956sports.com: A lot of people, including me, thought you guys couldn’t win district without Jake Garza. Did that make you guys mad at the beginning of the year?
MK: No sir not really. As a team we felt we would have been contending for the title regardless of Jacob on the team or not.
956sports.com: Did it fuel you guys?
MK: No, With or without him the media still would’ve said we wouldnt win district. And you know thats true..
956sports.com: You defeated three 31-5A teams in non district, of which 2 were picked by most to go the playoffs. Did you expect to be undefeated at this point in time?
MK: Yes sir.Everything is going as planned.
956sports.com: Big game this week with McHi. Do you go about this week differently than the non-district games?
MK: Of course. Its our first district game and this is when it really counts. And come on! its McHi, nuff said.
956sports.com: What game weighs on you more, the McHi game or playing Sharyland?
MK: They both weigh the same to me. Two district games. Two big rivalries.
956sports.com: You know, Sharyland fans have been talking smack this year on the forums and the website. Can you guys knock them from the top spot this year?
MK: I never really talk smack before games but anything is possible. As a team we take one game at a time so we’ll just have to see.
956sports.com: It’s the beginning of district. If you could write out a script of how you would want the season to finish, what would it look like?
MK: Well if I wrote the script of course Memorial would take the district championship and find a way to get to that fourth round.Share this post:
Rattlers’ Cruise Past Rowe
Special to 956sports.com
McALLEN – Sharyland’s Dakota Crouch will say it again if he has to. But one time was enough for the junior defensive end to get his bold statement across.
“We play tough, hard-nosed football,” Crouch said of his defense. “We don’t allow any yards. We’re the No. 1 defense in the Valley. I’ll say that one more time.”
Crouch held back few words after the Rattlers defense dominated during its 45-13 victory against McAllen Rowe on Thursday in both teams’ District 30-5A opener at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Sharyland’s defense had its way with the Warriors, forcing three turnovers that stymied a capable Rowe offense, which was averaging more than 400 yards. The special teams also blocked two punts in the first half and recovered a live ball on a kickoff late in the fourth quarter.
In all, Sharyland scored 24 points off of Rowe’s miscues.
The Rattlers held the Warriors to 199 yards and only one offensive touchdown that came in the second quarter with Sharyland comfortably leading 31-13.
Much of the praise after the game was directed at the defense, which is holding its opponents to less than 16 points per game. There was no need telling Sharyland coach Fred Sanchez what helped the Rattlers remain unbeaten (4-0 overall, 1-0 District 30-5A) and claim its 16th consecutive district victory.
“The defense played outstanding,” Sanchez said. “They gave the offense opportunities with all the turnovers and did a good job holding a potentially very good offense.”
Most of those opportunities came in the second quarter, when the Rattlers broke the game open with a 31-point quarter. Crouch got things rolling for Sharyland when his blocked punt of Juan Gomez late in the first quarter led to Joey Martinez’s 25-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing Warriors possession, Rattlers defensive back Jacob Rodriguez recovered a Gomez fumble and quarterback Tres Barrera capped it off with his 1-yard plunge for a 17-7 lead with 9:06 remaining in the half.
Barrera had a stellar night, throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 29-of-38 passing and rushing for 66 yards and a score. Barrera, who was a freshman when the Rattlers began their 16-district game winning streak, learned of his team’s impressive run after the game, but deflected any credit.
“Our defense played really well,” Barrera said. “They won us the game, basically. Our offense struggled at times. We had a couple of sparks, but we didn’t spark enough.”
The few sparks were enough, including his 9-yard touchdown pass to Ryan DeLeon with 1:35 remaining in the game.
The Warriors were never really in the game other than their early 7-0 lead with 10:37 remaining in the first quarter after senior linebacker Jordan Neiger returned a Rattlers fumble 25 yards.
It was the lone bright spot for the Warriors (1-3, 0-1), who dropped their third consecutive game.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” Rowe coach Paul Reyes said. “We made too many mistakes and you can’t make a mistake like that against a good team. We just gave the short field too much. But in the second half, we played a little bit better.”
Warriors quarterback Javi Obregon went 13-of-23 for 154 yards and one touchdown, but was picked off by Sharyland’s David Gonzalez and Danny Costilla.
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Sharyland vs Nikki Rowe Full Game
Sharyland and Nikki Rowe enter district play today at McAllen Veterans Memorial stadium. Joe Bowling leads our broadcast of tonight’s 30-5A broadcast. Due to technical difficulties we have had to place multiple video players for various types of the game.Share this post:
Valley View vs Weslaco East Full Game
Valley View travels to Weslaco East for a non district game. Weslaco looks to stay undefeated in district. Broadcasts start at 7pm with Carlos Robledo and David Fox leading the broadcast.
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Villarreal on Finley
Weslaco’s Tony Villarreal looks forward to coaching against Los Fresnos and Clint Finley.
After all, the second -year Falcons coach has a top-notch pedigree.
“Oh wow,” said the ebullient Villarreal on Wednesday evening. “He’s a legit guy, he’s got great credentials. He played DI football (at Nebraska). He played in the NFL.”
Finley is also the son of a Texas coaching legend (Mickey Finley) and Villarreal says that coaches’ sons grow up in the game and that makes a difference in their approach.
However, Villarreal is glad that the Panthers won’t be playing against Finley the player.
“Oh boy,” Villarreal said. “He was a great player, very fast. I’m just glad we won’t be lining up against him.”
Finley was a state champ in the 110-hurdles, a race that is a mix of speed and power.
Villarreal knows all about Finley as a high-school quarterback. It was Finley, who was under-center for Cuero against Port Isabel in 1994 when Villarreal was the head coach of the Tarpons, which might have been the Valley’s finest squad, going 13-1-1 and reaching the state semifinals.
In 1994, Port Isabel met Finley’s Cuero, then top-ranked in the state in 3A, in the third round of the playoffs with memories of a 63-8 defeat the year before in their heads.
The Tarpons rallied to tie the score at 20-20 on a two-point conversion and then eliminated the Gobblers on penetrations in those pre-overtime days.
Villarreal knows that’s in the past, although he’s more than willing to talk about his PI days, after all he is part of Valley football lore.
Right now, he’s just looking forward to competing with a tough opponent and getting a good start in District 32-5A.Share this post:
Q&A Adrian Morales Mission Vets
956sports.com: What do you listen to before a game to get pumped up?
I really don’t listen to music, but when I do I listen to Eminem
Favorite Movie: Friday Night Lights
Favorite Music Artist: Lil Wayne
Favorite Football Player: Cam Newton
Favorite NFL Team: Chicago Bears
Favorite College: Oregon
956sports.com: Last year was a dream year for Mission Vets, but this year was a nightmare for you. Did you know that you blew your knee out right away?
AM: No I thought I just sprained my ankle but my knee hurt really bad and when the trainers started to mess with it I figured I tore it.
956sports.com: What exactly did you tear, is it something you can talk about easily now?
AM: I tore my ACL and lateral meniscus.
956sports.com: What kind of recovery did the doctors give you?
AM: About 4-6 months.
956sports.com: Can you get back to being the player you were last year?
AM: I believe so. I don’t want anything to change the way I play. I’ve been playing like that since i was little.
956sports.com: No one was a bigger fan of yours than me, do you still want to play college ball?
AM: Yes, it’s been a dream since I was small. I believe ill still go somewhere.
956sports.com: You guys have gone through a ton of quarterbacks this year, does Coach Gilpin look to you to help mentor the young guys?
956sports.com: Vets still isn’t out of the playoff chase. They are sitting at 1-1 in the district. Can this team make a push for the playoffs?
AM: I believe just because I got hurt doesn’t mean we aren’t good. I think our team is very talented and young. We just need to find that edge, and when we do it’s going to be a good ride.
956sports.com: Big question, if you can rehab in time, would you play in the All Star game at the end of the school year?
AM: To be honest I really hope so. If i get invited I really want to play. Its going to be my last high school game and I want to show everyone that just because I got hurt doesn’t mean I cant play my style of football.Share this post:
Juan Puga Rio Hondo
Who’s Tougher? Finley’s Falcons Ready For Stiff Test Friday at Weslaco
BY GREG SELBER
Both teams have high-powered ground attacks with talented athletes capable of taking it to the house at the drop of a helmet, but Clint Finley is firm in the belief that the showdown between unbeatens Friday will be decided where it always is: the interior.
“I think this will be won in the trenches, the way just about every game is,” said the second-year Los Fresnos coach, who leads his 3-0 squad into a marquee matchup on the road at Weslaco against the equally unblemished Panthers. “Whose big boys are going to win this game by controlling the line of scrimmage, that’s the question. It’s going to boil down to conditioning, strength, and technique.”
The Falcons are off to a fast start in 2011, with wins against Austin Del Valle, P-SJ-A, and McAllen Rowe, and though the top three runners in the arsenal average 8.0 yards per carry, the heart of the charge might be the offensive line.
“We’ve got four starters out of five from last year, so we feel good about that,” said Finley, who took over for Scott Ford last season and produced a playoff appearance as a rookie coach. “Those guys are experienced and we’ve all put in a lot of hard work. We’ve broken a few big plays this season so far behind that line.”
Los Fresnos can call upon two of the better guards around in Joe Rodriguez and Roy Valdez, 260-pound veterans who open up holes for the ground-pound, speed-of-sound attack. Center Greg Uribe is a junior who has stepped up nicely in his first varsity season, with mammoth 6-foot-6, 275-pound Christian Rodriguez having gotten some looks from college scouts.
“This is the strength of our team right there,” Finley commented. “They’ve come a long way and we’re very pleased with that group.”
So Los Fresnos comes to Weslaco for a Friday night fight with a Panther team that won the District 32-5A title last year. The Falcons own a 5-1 advantage in the series, with last year’s 21-14 Weslaco win marking that program’s first scratch. The first three games were all decided by three points, and outside of a 57-7 blowout win for the Falcons in 2009, it’s been close all the way.
Weslaco also totes a 3-0 mark after victories over Mercedes, Alice, and Harlingen South and its imposing defense is among the Valley’s best. This means the collision between the LF O-line and the Purple D is going to be something to see.
“They have got some heavy tackles and those two big and fast ends,” Finley noted, adding that the entire unit has speed to burn. “A very athletic defense, so we are going to have to come to play. We’re real excited about this game, it’s the ultimate type of game you want your kids to play in.”
Jose Montiel and Jacob Grimaldo are the ends the coach speaks of, and they are playmakers with bulk along with great chase speed. Linebacker Ernesto Tafolla is an experienced hitter and the secondary is full of rangy greyhounds. They will attempt to stop a Los Fresnos offense that has reeled off offensive outputs of 373, 446, and 492 yards so far, with a bushel of long breakaway runs by that electric backfield. The Falcs have gained the lion’s share of yards by the run, but Finley intimated that his team has been working on establishing balance.
“We are a run-first team for sure, and so are they,” he said. “That’s why I say this game will be decided in the trenches. The question is, Who’s tougher? We look forward to seeing if we can keep it going Friday. I think we are going to have to pass sooner or later, especially if they put eight or nine men in the box. You can’t block everybody in that situation, you gotta put it up.”
PLENTY TO EYEBALL
This one is full of intriguing subplots, with Weslaco looking to show the Valley that it has the same magic it unfurled in 2010, when it won 10 times. Los Fresnos is looking for its seventh straight playoff trip and the road starts at Bobby Lackey Stadium.
When the Panthers get the ball they will employ Coach Tony Villarreal’s patented Slot-T offense to throw multiple looks and ball-carriers at the defense. It’s a deceptive, explosive powderkeg waiting for the fire.
“That offense is like a bunch of quail scattering,” commented Finley, and the phrase delivered in his steady drawl is befitting a small-town boy, which he is. “You really have to play assignment football out there, play your responsibility and be in the right spot. If you don’t, they can embarrass you in a hurry!”
Luckily the Falcon D, much maligned the past few years, is coming of age at the right time. Led by some seasoned kids in the secondary, the unit has performed well so far in 2011. Chris Almanzan, a heady student of the game, is at a corner again this year, while two-way difference-maker Christian Losoya has been there, done that in the big games at safety. Finley says basketball player Akeem Simien, a springy junior, has been a pleasant addition to the deep back at corner, giving the Falcons some fliers to slow down the array of interchangeable backs they’ll see Friday.
Los Fresnos depends on middle linebacker Nick Cruz to call signals (along with Almanzan) and make sticks in the heart of the action.
“He’s a good reader, a disciplined kid who handles a lot of the communication out there,” said Finley of his top ‘backer. “We are hoping to get linebacker Benito Mendoza back for the game, he’s been injured, missed the last two. We also have a guy at tackle, Felipe Cantu, who strained a knee and we’re not sure he can go.”
Despite the injury problems, the Los Fresnos D is not a sieve-like entity in 2011, as youngsters like sophomore Mingo Hernandez have come on strong. Hernandez has good size and ran a 16-flat in the 100-meter hurdles to advance to regionals as a freshman. Junior J.J. Hernandez is an up-and-coming end with some heft who will contend with the humongous Weslaco O-line that boasts two 300-pounders.
Other producers on that D are Manny Saldana, Carlos Castillo, and Alejandro Lopez, all of whom have been near the top of the tackle charts through three contests.
One X Factor that will probably not play a part in the proceedings Friday is pedigree. Finley, as most of you know, played college ball at Nebraska and was good enough to make it to the NFL with Dallas and Kansas City. While that is fun to talk about for the media and fans, the fact is, the coach understands that the past has a shelf life when all is said and done.
“Oh, I don’t know, I think that factor wears off quick really,” he laughed. “I mean, I do draw upon my experiences to coach these kids, but they have probably already forgotten that I played in the NFL. They see me on an everyday basis and they know me as their coach. Fine with me, I just want them to listen to me, and I think they do.”
Bottom line, Finley and the Falcons understand what is on the line against Weslaco, which is the chance to set the tone for a 32-5A race that promises to be highly competitive.
“We’re having a blast so far, and winning makes it better,” he explained. “When you’re winning it’s like that, and when you’re losing, it’s bad times for everyone. We started 1-3 last year and struggled, but the kids hung in there and never gave up. That’s the way we are facing Friday, just telling them: “Keep playing, keep playing, keep playing!” It doesn’t matter who’s winning early, but it sure matters who’s winning at the end.”
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Q&A Sal Martinez Edinburg
956sports.com: What do you listen to before a game to get pumped up?
I like listening to something chill, it helps me reflect on the things i learned in practice and helps stay focus.
Favorite Movie: Friday Night Lights
Favorite Music Artist: Lil Wayne and or Drake
Favorite Football Player: Deon Sanders
Favorite NFL Team: Cowboys
Favorite College: University of Texas
956sports.com: You’re going into the most important game of the season for the Bobcats, the first district game. It’s against a Harlingen team that just beat Abilene in San Antonio. How do you stop a team like them?
SM: First of all they are a great team and I do respect that, but on any given day anyone can be beat, I think it is just a matter of who wants it more and who gave more in practice.
956sports.com: Edinburg’s defense last year was one of the best in the valley with you and Teddy Lara at safeties. This week you’ll be facing off against Bermea, Ledesma, Hunter, and Blake. Do they have too many weapons to stop?
SM: No, I don’t think it is impossible to stop them, but yes it will be a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.
956sports.com: You’ve been playing on both sides of the ball this year. On offense, which position would you rather be in, Wildcat QB or receiver?
SM: Actually I like both, I would go anywhere they need me or prefer me to be.
956sports.com: How far can the Bobcats go this year?
SM: I believe in our team very much. As long as we play together we should go far, we are hoping to go at least 4 rounds. It would be an honor to play for the State Championship.
956sports.com: What does the future hold for you? Will you be on a division I roster next year?
SM: I hope so I’m not too sure on anything right now, but it has been a dream for me to play D1 football. Hopefully, god willing, I will be on a roster for a school like that.Share this post:
Q&A Kevin Ledesma Harlingen
956sports.com: What do you listen to before a game to get pumped up?
I listen to a lot of System of a down, Toxicity is probably my fav song from them. Also Headlines by Drake
Favorite Movie: Varsity Blues
Favorite Music Artist: Lil Wayne
Favorite Football Player: Tim Tebow
Favorite NFL Team: Cowboys
Favorite College: Oregon, I love their offense.
956sports.com: You came off a big win last weekend over Abilene, how did you get your head right after throwing those early interceptions?
KL: After those two interceptions, i knew i had to pull it together and focus, The team needed me at this time but i needed them more. They calmed me down and brought the best out of me.
956sports.com: What did it feel like to be on the sidelines watching the last play?
KL: The last play reminded me of Stevens so much. I was hurting and thought the game was over, Next thing i know he was stopped short of the endzone and everyone went wild.
956sports.com: After such a big win against Abilene, how do you not lose focus on this week’s game with Edinburg?
KL: We take it a game at a time, Edinburg is going to be a tough opponent, as are all of our district games. What happened last week is in the past, we haven’t accomplished anything in our eyes, we are aiming for perfection and are far from that.
956sports.com: Who’s the most intense person on your team?
KL: The most intense person on our team is a hard question, everybody has the mind set that nothing that gets in the way is going to stop them.
956sports.com: I imagine you watch highlights of other players in the valley. What other player would you most like to play with in the valley?
KL: I’ve seen a lot of great teams this year, but i wouldn’t want to play with anyone other then my team, the chemistry is fantastic and everyone gets along.
956sports.com: 31-5A seems down this year, what teams will give you the most competition in district?
KL: Ever team in the district is tied right now, these past three weeks have meant nothing but building blocks for the season, The Harlingen Cardinals have a target on their back and i know every team we play is going to bring their A-game.
956sports.com: Can Harlingen get past the third round this year?
KL: The way i see it, is that if we take it one game at a time and stay grounded and have the same team unity as before, no matte we will go far.
Coach Gomez has instilled in our minds that every week no matter what color jersey we are playing against, we will continue to play the game how it is meant to be played, Against ones self.Share this post:
Player of the Week Jacob Lerma
Plays of Week 3
Abilene vs Harlingen Highlights
Santa Rosa vs La Feria Highlights
Harlingen vs Abilene Full Game
Last Minute of 2nd half and Overtime
956sports.com Broadcast to be Webcasted Live Saturday
Harlingen – 956sports.com announced on Wednesday that, for the first time, a shared broadcast of a live football event with Harlingen CISD Channel 17 for the Harlingen-Abilene football game at Heroes Field on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. The partnership between the 956sports.com and Harlingen CISD is a first, and will benefit football fans from around the globe. Servicemen and women will be able to watch a free, uninterrupted broadcast, as well as fans from the Rio Grande Valley.
The game can be seen live on 956sports.com, or through the UStream App on iPhones and Android phones.
956sports.com’s Joe Bowling will lead the broadcast, along with Channel 17′s color commentator.
Harlingen (2-0) is coming off of a 72-0 win over Corpus Christi Carroll and a 49-7 victory over San Benito.
Maxpreps ranks Abilene (2-1) #32 in the state after beating Washington High School (Tulsa, OK).Share this post:
The Huddle Episode 7
Tony takes a look at the biggest game of the early season (Harlingen vs Abilene). Special guests will discuss the game.Share this post:
Lions Tame Warriors, Win 30-6 At Homecoming
LA FERIA – While it will not go into the record books as the most smoothly played game in history, or the quickest for that matter, the annual brawl between the closest of neighbors lived up to its hype in terms of physicality.
As La Feria dispatched Santa Rosa here Friday 30-6, the Lion defense slammed its way through the larger Warrior line all night, pounding away on the enemy ball-carriers with a vengeance. With linebacker Frank Arispe collecting 15 tackles and do-it-all Gilbert Jimenez picking off a pass and scoring a touchdown on the ground, the Lions rushed to 4-0 while the Warriors dropped to 2-2.
New La Feria coach Oscar Salinas has had the hot hand since joining the program, with a potent offense that came in averaging 40 points a night. Friday the Lions were turnover prone and faced a determined if depleted Santa Rosa bunch, so the defensive effort (147 yards total for the Warriors, down to their third quarterback now) came in mighty handy.
“We knew they would be looking ahead to this game, to come over here and take us on,” said Salinas, who arrived back at the school after an 11-year stint at Economedes in Edinburg; he had been a Lion assistant in the 1990s under Robert Valdez. “So we expected a tough game and we got it. I think after awhile our no-huddle tired them out a little. We played well in stretches, well enough to win.”
Always a big believer in placing focus on special teams, Salinas got a super play from his punt-cover team when Edward Cantu blocked a punt and Brandon Ramon pounced on it in the end zone. This bang-bang play at 3:44 of the first half made the score 23-7, Lions, despite a spirited performance by the Warriors through the first 20 minutes.
Jimenez, one of the best all-around players in the Valley, caught just one pass, for 20 yards, rushed eight times for 64 yards and had the INT. The pick came early in the game in front of a Homecoming crowd at the packed Lions’ stadium, and got the ball rolling for the program’s 16th straight win over Santa Rosa. He is a supreme impact player.
Two plays after the turnover, Jimenez jetted in from the 10 and it was 7-0 La Feria at 7:18. But the Lions were just not sharp in the quarter, fumbling away a punt deep in their own territory and setting up the lone Santa Rosa tally of the evening.
In three plays from the 20 the Warriors went backward on an illegal block until Caleb Kent steamed across the middle to haul in a 30-yard TD strike from sophomore Adrian Canales at 4:26. The Warriors went to war without versatile senior Aaron Ramirez (hamstring) and junior Joe Mariscal (also injured) and the soph Canales struggled a bit against a quick and strong Lion D.
This is not the biggest group La Feria has ever had, but it is among the fastest, with linebacker/safety Daniel Cuervo (12 tackles, INT) running the show out there along with Arispe, who is stocky, aggressive, and a sure tackler. The Lions have some sizable tackles plus a speedy end in Jose Barbosa, and en masse the unit limited Santa Rosa to 115 yards on 40 carries. Warrior running star Aries Villanueva, whose name is almost as cool as his vision and cutting ability, ran hard all night, getting 90 on 19 trips before leaving late with a minor injury. It was that type of game, lots of good, legal headhunting and some ferocious gang-tackling.
One of the casualties was La Feria QB Chris Estrada, who had been off to a fine start in 2011. He came in with a 66.7 completion percentage and 12 TD, and Friday picked up 52 yards and two scores running and threw for 85 more before leaving on a stretcher with a painful dislocated shoulder in the second half.
Jimenez noted that last year the gutty passer went through the same ordeal, and only missed one week.
“That’s a tough guy right there,” said the curly-locked quickster, who was dinged up himself in the second half but seemed OK. “He’ll be back.”
The first of Estrada’s TD runs came from the 10 in the second period, after a 30-yard field goal from live-legged Alex Vazquez. Thus at 5:35 it was 17-6, with the special teams TD to come. To that stage, Santa Rosa was still in it, but the gimme six seemed to take the wind out of its sails. Moving forward, the visitor tired amid the charge of the onrushing La Feria D.
Conversely, the Warrior defense made a credible stand of its own after the break, yielding just one TD and 118 yards. The tough little Villanueva (5-6, 155) made eight stops going both ways, while star end Tyler Daul (10) and promising sophomore DB Arnold Galvan (10) were active all night. Linebackers Christian Flores (another sophomore for a relatively young group) and beefy Marc Hernandez, a junior, laid the wood consistently for Coach Josh Gonzalez’ crew, which has lost two in a two now with a much-needed bye week ahead.
For the game, La Feria got 298 yards, 78 off its 2011 average, but it gained the win and remains unbeaten heading into next week’s road game at La Villa. Salinas, who said he is having a blast with his old/new team, added that the Lions weathered a storm of turnovers to eventually show some good signs.
“I think we finished well, after we gave it away some early,” he said. “The kids have been working hard and they deserve to be undefeated. I love it here, it’s good to be back, and now I remember what I liked so much about a single-school town…there were a ton of fans here tonight! That’s good for the program.”
In 2010 the Lions were a middling 5-5, and several narrow losses kept them from making the playoffs for the fourth season running. So being able to seal the deal against a bitter rival, especially when they didn’t really fashion a top-notch performance, augurs well for the 32-3A campaign ahead.
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Munguia and East Keep Rolling Through 32-4A
By Ramiro Paez
Special to 956Sports.com
MERCEDES – Apparently, a few hard hits is all it takes for Weslaco East running back Aaron Munguia to get going. After last week’s outstanding performance against La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, Munguia continued to roll during the Wildcats’ 37-12 victory over the Mercedes Tigers on Friday night at Tigers Stadium.
Munguia looked a bit battered after the game and downplayed an undisclosed injury, but still ran for 175 yards and three touchdowns one week after his memorable 297-yard and seven-touchdown performance against the Huskies.
“It’s nice having a win behind our backs,” Munguia said. “Still, I feel bad getting hurt. I was hurting since the first play. I’m not going to say how hurt I am, but I’ll be 100 percent next Friday.”
Other than a noticeable hobble off the field in the first half, Munguia played off the injury well. The Tigers struggled to contain the quick and elusive back, whose 25-yard spin move to the end zone in the third quarter helped seal the win for the Wildcats, who remain unbeaten in District 32-4A play.
Munguia had only two yards on two carries in the fourth quarter before being pulled out midway with the game well in hand for Weslaco East (3-1 overall, 2-0 District 32-4A), which led 30-6.
“I’m kind of disappointed,” Munguia said. “I know I could have ran for more yards. But I want to thank my offensive line.”
Quarterback John Arevalo (1-for-3, 36 yards) attempted only three passes for the Wildcats, who did their damage on the ground after rushing for 285 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries.
And they had help doing it.
The Tigers turned the ball over three times during a span of six minutes in the first quarter, which led to 17 Wildcats points and gave Weslaco East short fields to work with. Munguia scored on runs of 3 and 2 yards in the first half, while Peter Gonzalez (8 carries, 59 yards, TD) provided Weslaco East with its final score after breaking loose for a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:33 remaining.
Kicker Jose Luis Hernandez was perfect on the night for the Wildcats, connecting on three field goals (22, 39, 30 yards) and four extra points.
“I am very, very happy,” Weslaco East coach Armando Cuellar said. “I am very proud of the staff and the way the kids played. We’re doing what is expected. The kicking game was there. That was a big positive for us. Defense was outstanding. Special teams did a great job. The running game everything starts with the offensive line. And Aaron. He knows what to do.”
Mercedes does too.
The Tigers are in desperate need of a victory to stay in district contention. Mercedes (0-4 overall, 0-2 District 32-4A) remains winless and is in jeopardy of falling even farther behind if it cannot get going in what figures to be a wide-open race for the district’s final two playoff spots.
Although playoff talk and scenarios at this point of the season is a bit premature, for the Tigers it’s already something to at least keep in mind. That is why Mercedes coach Michael Uribe said there is “a huge sense of urgency” heading into next weekend’s pivotal game at Mission Veterans Memorial.
“The hardest step to take is always the first step,” Uribe said. “We need to get some momentum. We have six district ballgames left. We are still believing that we are a playoff-caliber team. We got to get out of this slump that we are in. The best way to do it is to win.”
The return of quarterback Christian Zamora, who returned in the fourth quarter in place of Isaiah Garza, could help. Zamora went 6-of-6 for 107 yards and connected with Garza on a 21-yard touchdown pass with 4:44 remaining.
Garza threw for 64 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-18 passing, including his 15-yard strike to Brandon Wooton in the second quarter.
It was a welcoming sight for Uribe, who despite the loss, saw positives on a night when his team committed costly turnovers and nearly matched the Wildcats’ offensive output (295-284).
“Those three turnovers early put us in a hole that we couldn’t climb out of,” Uribe said. “But I was proud of our kids for not giving up. Physically, we matched up with them. We played hard. The score is not an indication of the way we played. Not at all.”Share this post: