BY GREG SELBER
EDINBURG – It’s points on the curve in the early going, we all know that. Coaches are at their busiest during the non-district schedule, experimenting, adjusting, and getting their ducks in a row for the league fight ahead.
When it comes to personnel, chess moves, and intuition, Sharyland’s Ron Adame has proven himself to be among the most adept, with four-wheel drive of the brain that makes his clubs tough to beat over four quarters. Adame’s latest Ah Ha Moment came here Friday in a hard-core battle with Edinburg North, and it probably wasn’t that difficult a move to make.
It involved a lightning flash named Blake Klein, a guy who had come on strong during the latter half of 2015, forming a dangerous tandem mate with Edgar Alanis, the better known Rattler receiver. With the Rattlers finding the inside road treacherous against North’s cement wall of a front seven, Adame and Shary did what seemed like a great idea and was.
With the score 3-3 after a half, both teams driving, threatening, but not finishing with any degree of success, Klein started the second half in the wildcat. The offense went to what is called the Driver Series, which works off the Jet Sweep and attacks the perimeter with speed. No. 1 seemed to be in many places at once, which of course is physically impossible, regardless of what quantum physics might suggest.
Over the next 24 minutes Klein would electrify the attack, scoring on a run and then a reception, the second touch coming with 5:04 left to give the Snakes a touch-and-go 20-17 victory over the Cougars. He and his teammates spread the Cougars out with the Jet Sweep look, throwing in the occasional counter, making the field bigger, so to speak, thus harder to defend.
The narrow result sent the club to 1-1 after last week’s loss to Weslaco East and dropped Rene Saenz’ outfit to 0-2, following a debit suffered on the road at Brownsville Vets in the opener, also by 3.
For the game, the junior Klein, who has excellent speed and acceleration, sure hands, and a knack for the key contribution, totaled 212 yards from scrimmage, the team getting 331. Adame said that as Friday wore on, he and the staff knew what they needed to do.
“We decided he needed more touches in the second half, and occasionally at quarterback, it means he touches the ball every play,” said Adame, who also benefited from a defense that forced three turnovers in the second half and held the Coogs out at the end when it counted. “We knew it would be a battle with North, we always have excellent games against them, in the regular season and also in the playoffs a few years back. That’s a physical blue-collar team that comes to play and play hard, so we knew we needed to get creative, get the ball to Blake. He’s a very explosive player.”
The game played out as many observers had imagined, with Sharyland using the edge in team speed and the Cougars employing their strong interior lines. The difference – besides the detonations of Klein at the right times – was probably execution. North outgained the Rattlers in yards and churned out more first downs, but every time the home side at Richard R. Flores Stadium tried to break away, mistakes were the problem.
They started the third period with a fumble and Shary took advantage, cashing the gift in five plays from the 36, Klein scooting in from the 13 at 8:48. The Coogs then cranked out some action of their own, with some adjustments of their own.
Senior QB Cristian Espinoza had played relatively close to the vest in the first half as junior stepper Ethan Vela – 129 yards, his second 100-plus night of the young campaign – was finding room to run behind Gaston Cortinas and the offensive line.
But now Espinoza was starting to get unwound, and would carry the ball 13 times in the half. He led the team downfield until it got to the Shary 36 but then came the second turnover of the half, an interception grabbed by Rattler Kike Escalera.
Again the Shary O clicked along to get points off the miscue, but only three as the North D came up with some big plays to hold the foe to its second field goal of the night from DB Andres Tamez. At 3:11 of the third it was 13-3 but the Coogs had avoided the touchdown thanks to tackle Julius Jimenez and secondary man Isaiah Valdez. Jimenez stuffed a ball carrier for minus-2 to force the kick try, and Valdez was the star of the game all night for North, recording 15 tackles and a couple of pass breakups.
At this point, Sharyland was rolling well enough but Espinoza, too, was feeling it. He sailed a perfect ball to Vela for a 24-yarder and then Vela took off on a 39-yard dash to reach the Rattler 1. Three plunges later, the Coogs got in, courtesy of Espinoza, who was shaken up on a weird play that started with a quarterback sneak and ended with a brawl between the two tightly wound teams, a player from each being shown the exit after a 5-minute powderkeg melee. One of the refs had his hat knocked off in the middle of the drama: luckily his head was not in it.
Last week North had led at Vets by two scores before falling to the Chargers, and Saenz’ crew was determined to get back into this one. And they did, on one of the craziest plays one will ever see.
On the kickoff after the sneak and fight, the ball bounced in front of and away from the Sharyland return man, 10 yards back in the other direction, in the air. Speedy North track man Justin Guerra, who had some sweet gains in the second half, slid in and grabbed the ball as it passed like a laser back over his head, to complete the most unorthodox and probably the longest “onside kick” in history. A superb athletic play from Guerra there, that was a very tough one to make.
Now with some fire in their eyes after the exquisite turn of luck and skill, the Coogs wasted little time in finally achieving the lead, Espinoza knifing in from the 6 at 8:41 of the fourth to spin the scoreboard to 17-13, North.
Back came Shary, however, with Klein converting a third-down chance with a run and then breaking 33 yards down to the Coog 20. When Sharyland is rocking, it looks easy out there, always has. Even with Alanis off and on with a shoulder injury Friday, QB Alan Alvarez was solid by completing 11 passes for 130 yards with zero mistakes. On third-and-goal from the 23 (holding penalty), he found Klein downfield inside the 5; the flashy junior caught the ball at the 2, then stopped on a dime and let a defender sail by before waltzing into the end zone at 5:04.
This one was not over yet, though, as North withstood a sack of Espinoza by impressive newcomer Javo Lopez to reach the Shary 48 after Espinoza bulled his way past the sticks on a 14-yard rush. But then another Rattler new face made his presence felt. Cesar Secca, a senior linebacker who’d made 11 tackles versus East, would collect a team-high 13 Friday. But it was his leaping interception of a pass from Espinoza that was perhaps the Play of the Day, at 2:14.
Incredibly, though, the hometowners fought to another opportunity, as again Jimenez cracked a runner short of the first down at the Coog 35. Ball over on downs and North had a gasp left. A quick pass netted 10 yards to the 45 in the final minute and soon it was fourth and 6. Espinoza found an open catcher over the middle and fired a strike, but the pass was dropped, ending a night of almosts for the Cougars.
A pretty evenly played night for the most part although as stated, North lost the poise battle, as along with three turnovers the Coogs also missed a field goal, in the first half, and surrendered three sacks as well. Shary was cleaner, and managed to get around the disastrous two-minute span of the final stanza when North scored twice to take the lead.
Next up for the Cougars is a match at home against a suddenly formidable Harlingen South unit out to a 2-0 start under new coach Brian Ricci; the Hawks have wins over McAllen and P-SJ-A so far.
“We were a few plays away tonight, I think if we execute a little better, we’ll be there,” said Saenz, whose team has held the lead in both losses and shown the potential to be a real contender in 31-6A. “I believe we can do that and I think the kids are going to believe it too, despite tonight. We just have to believe in ourselves.”
The Rattlers get a week to rest now, before starting the long 31-5A slog against Valley View at home Sept. 16. After that it’s a road trip to Laredo to take on Martin before the Big One, a showdown Sept. 30 against the Roma Gladiators, who shut La Joya out Friday to rise to 2-0. People have been counting out the Rattlers for a few years now and they keep disappointing folks.
They can still play this game, man!