BY GREG SELBER
ELSA – It’s been the trend this season, from Port Isabel to Los Fresnos to Pharr North to Weslaco East and back: players from one side of the ball able to contribute some vital spot duty on the other side of the scrimmage line.
Here Friday it was the turn of Brownsville Vets to make use of personnel in a clever and productive way, and the moves from Coach David Cantu and staff were part of the Chargers’ dominant 50-20 blowout victory over Edcouch-Elsa.
Already having employed offensive guys Gustavo “The Great” Vazquez and Abel Martinez to fine effect in the attack, the Chargers got stupendous snaps from each on the defensive side to stem a Yellowjacket rally in the second quarter.
Having bounded out to a 29-13 advantage with Vazquez and Martinez running wild, Vets faced a raging E-E machine that was intent on getting back into the fight. But on fourth and 10 from the Charger 38, the ‘Jackets threw incomplete when none other than the amazing Vazquez – having been inserted for the snap – ran down Marco Aguinaga and forced the INC.
On the next play, Martinez (219 rushing yards, a long screen pass TD called back by penalty) bolted for a 63-yard touchdown, using his track man’s speed to outrace the E-E secondary. Later, at the end of the half, with the ‘Jackets threatening again, Martinez, who was a DB last season as a sophomore, returned to his old spot for a moment, coming to the fore with an interception at the goal-line as the gun sounded to end a frustrating 24 minutes for the home side.
After last week’s dismal loss to Mercedes, in which his team turned it over at the wrong time, surrendering some huge gains to the Tigers in the process, Cantu knew that the Bolts would need to regroup at the Black Hole (yikes). And thanks in part to the two-way stars, they did, and all in all, it was a terrific night to be a Charger.
“We knew we might have gotten a better outcome last week if we had been sharper,” said Cantu, whose unit is now 2-1 in District 32-5A and 4-2 overall, its losses coming to Vela and Mercedes. “So I am really proud of the way we played tonight. Gustavo is just, well, he’s a special player, obviously, and we’re very excited about the way Abel has come on lately. He’s a soccer kid and he was a corner last year, but he is starting to figure it out as a running back, I think you can see that with the way he performed tonight.”
For the ‘Jackets it was a stunning home defeat, making them 2-1, 4-2 also with a key junket to Mercedes on tap for next week. Though they gained 389 yards, a third of that came on the final two Garbage Time drives, and for the first time all season, Coach Joe Marichalar’s squad did not show up in champion style.
After an initial spurt that ended with an Aguinaga TD run and a 7-0 lead, la maqina was sluggish, mistake-prone, and could not early-reach the Vets runners with any sort of consistency. By the end of the first it was 23-7, visitor, and the ‘Jacket troubles were exemplified by an abysmal stretch in that stanza. Down 14-7 after scoring thrusts of 54 and 5 from Vazquez (17 carries for 175 yards, the team motored for 387 on the ground), E-E committed three straight illegal-motion penalties to set the offense back at its own 3. Then, Jose Sanchez helped sack Aguinaga for a safety at 4:17.
“We have had certain times when we just struggle to do things, we get a bit muddled out there,” said Marichalar afterward. “I had imagined that we were ready to come out here and play a great game, because we knew that Vets was better than they showed against Mercedes. I don’t know what it was tonight, but it just wasn’t happening for us, at all.”
Part of the recipe for blowout was the Vets offense, which collected 470 total yards, Vazquez again showing his incredible strength, quickness, and determination, his backfield mate Martinez exhibiting blinding wheels in getting to the corner time after time. The mammoth Vets offensive line, led by Ricardo Alaniz and Marco Cordova, punished the smaller E-E D-line without cessation, and so the holes were there for the little flier, Martinez. The Vets line is stocked with senior veterans, and it played a marvelous game Friday under duress in a hostile environment.
Meanwhile, the Yellowjackets let the Chargers charge ahead for that big early lead and missed several chances to cut into the margin, as stated. Led by Damian Tabares up front, the Chargers put the pressure on dynamic senior Aguinaga, forcing the star quarter into a subpar 16-of-35 night. The other huge factor was that the swift and agile Edcouch leader was able to rush for just 21 yards on 13 tries, way below his impressive norm. Again, the size of the Brownsville club was a difference-maker, as the visitor captured the trench warfare from start to finish. Linebacker Brandon Martinez was excellent as always with 10 tackles, while fiery David Almazan, the team’s Honey Badger for his all-out efforts and opportunism, added 11, including three tackles on special teams.
The Chargers stacked the inside and pursued to the flanks, allowing Edcouch little room to run. Junior Jorge Gomez, who has emerged as one of the best E-E backs, could not find much to work with, and neither could linebacker Joel Cardoza, another of the fine two-way guys making waves in the Valley this season. Cardoza had a 29-yard run in the first half and little sparkplug John Michael Gonzalez ripped off a 33-yarder. But every time the team got into range, something went wrong.
Ace receivers A.J. Rodriguez and J.J. Flores did combine for 10 catches but the grabs went for just 96 total yards, and neither was able to make any headway in the return game, where both have been dangerous game-breakers all year. The ‘Jackets came in averaging more than 40 points per game and had not lost since an opening night defeat to Los Fresnos, 50-40. Their four-game streak went up in smoke as again they gave up an even 50, this time managing less than half their average on offense.
CLASSIC, OR NOT
The night was muggy and still after a rainstorm had pelted Hidalgo County a few hours before kickoff. This was a matchup of powers with designs on a district title, the ‘Jackets hoping to remain unbeaten in the loop.
They looked good on that bet when a rattled Vets crew jumped offside on its first play and later punted, E-E starting the first possession at the enemy 29. The ‘Jackets faced a fourth and 8 at the 14 and went for it, Aguinaga steaming and skating his way up the middle on the QB draw for the first blood in the contest.
Seeking to keep the momentum, E-E was unable to corral Vazquez, who stomped his way for 39 yards on the first play after the kickoff, the home side committing the first of many miscues with a personal foul at the end of the run. That set the pigskin at the ‘Jacket 12, momentum done, and soon Vazquez bopped in from the 5 to tie the game, scattering enemy tacklers like bowling pins with his thick thighs and hard-butting helmet. He rough, yawl.
On the next E-E series, Manny Yanez, an enormous and un-slow Vets defender, sacked the quarterback to force a punt, and it took Vazquez one snap to make it 14-7, as he rumbled 54 yards to the end zone at 4:43. He is so big and strong, one can be deceived by the speed that he can generate. Out of the shotgun, when No. 11 claps his massive hands together for the snap, one knows that something cool to see is about to happen. Vazquez, human at last, had made a few mistakes against Mercedes, getting popped, losing the ball, and seeing the Tigers capitalize. He seemed very intent on redeeming himself Friday (as if Cantu and the Charger gang would ever place any blame on his wide shoulders; they know the meal ticket when the see it stalking the sidelines drinking gallons of water. Kid sweats a ton).
Next came the ill-fated safety and then an 18-yard TD run by Martinez at 0:25 of the first. The drive was paved by a sharp 12-yard pass from Vazquez to Josh Alaniz. Vazquez threw four times Friday, completing three and one went for 51 yards to Keaton Cackley, a play on which the Vets QB slipped a bit before unleashing a 40-yard spiral that was right on the money.
At this juncture, the Black Hole was silent as a tomb, but Aguinaga got it rolling, sending first Gonzalez and then Cardoza on their aforementioned runs, leading to the former’s 4-yard dart at 11:04 of the second. Gonzalez is flat tiny but has started to pay real dividends for the offense; on his score he stopped after one step to avoid a tackler, cut back into the pile, or beside it really, and dived into the end zone for the six. The ‘Jackets have weapons, big time, but they did not have them working for much of the night.
Cardoza, who is a huge hitter with absolute malice for opposing runners, was to make a dozen tackles, and he led a stand that turned the ball back over to E-E, though Martinez had taken a pass all the way, only to be denied by flag. Still, with just a 10-point deficit at 23-13, now the game we had all come to see would surely unfold.
But Tabares harried the errant passer again and Martinez came up with a sure stop: Edcouch had to punt. Vets got a 20-yard strike from Vazquez to Francisco Perez to jumpstart it onward, and Vazquez crunched in from the 2 to make it 29-13 at 2:58.
Aguinaga then went all 7-on-7, winging five completions in six attempts to lead the bunch downfield. He came in with 17 TDs and just one pick, did the All-Valley star, with 495 rushing yards as well. But Friday was tough, to be certain. Aaron Recio made a pass defense for Vets and as mentioned, Gustavo the Great ran into the fray to hurry Aguinaga into the incomplete that stalled the drive.
When Martinez sped for the downs on the first play after the change of possession, it was basically over, the Chargers jogging happily to the lockers with an astounding 36-13 lead at the break. Wow, just … wow.
Both coaches discussed the league race after the night was in the books, and each offered some trepidation about a suddenly formidable Lopez squad. The surprise Lobos, at 2-0, 4-1, were to take on Donna Saturday and for the first time in the history of the world (maybe) would be favored to defeat the perennially excellent Redskins, who have struggled mightily do far in 2016. Cantu’s group has Lopez down at the magical and mystical Sams Stadium Oct. 14, while Edcouch turns its attention to the eternal rival, Mercedes.
Getting dark in Elsa, time to go home. The Vets kids were on the bus, ready to go home, and man, the trip back south was going to be fun. Always that way, after a superb performance in all phases of the game. A rout. The Chargers pulled off from the stadium with No. 11 driving the bus … no wait, a dream. Truth is, in becoming this year Valley version of Jim Thorpe – he punts, he runs, he passes, and defends … and just, damn, he just looks GREAT out there, everyone is awed by this guy – it would not have been surprising if Vazquez had been seen behind the wheel. Or hell, sprinting alongside the bus as it made its way back to Brownsville. He is that special a player, tellin’ ya.