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By Kenneth Roberts, Freelance Writer

With a defense that was unyielding for virtually the entire game and a fourth quarter blocked punt that set up the winning score, the Rio Grande City Rattlers unleashed a second half comeback to overcome the La Joya Coyotes 12-7 in the 2016 season opener Thursday night at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium.

The game was scoreless at halftime, with each team losing golden scoring opportunities due to fumbles that rolled out of the end zone. The Coyotes drew first blood with an 88-yard scoring drive in the third quarter, but the Rattlers quickly responded with a 72-yard scoring drive that hit paydirt when Jason Perez threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Guerra. The Rattlers still trailed 7-6, however, after the extra point attempt was blocked.

Early in the fourth period, the Rattlers blocked a punt and fell on the ball at the Coyote 13. On the first play, Diego Garcia bolted into the end zone untouched for a 13-yard scoring run to give the Rattlers a 12-7 lead that stood up the remainder of the game.

Early in the contest, the Coyotes gained possession twice near midfield, but were stymied by the Rio defense. On their third possession, the Rattlers cranked up a promising drive from their 20. On second and eight, quarterback Jason Perez rolled to his left and connected with Diego Garcia for a 13-yard completion to the Rio 35. Two plays later, Perez flipped a short pass to Javier Garcia, who broke away from a defender and scampered down the right sideline for a 13-yard completion to the Coyote 49.

On the next play, Perez kept the ball through the middle for a 10-yard gain to the Coyote 39. Two plays later, Perez found a receiver on the left side and the receiver slipped away from a would-be tackler for good yardage, but the ball was stripped and a Coyote defender scooped up the ball at the 22 and returned the ball 27 yards to the La Joya 49. On third and 14, the Rattler defense held again when a pass sailed incomplete inside the Rio 35.

The Coyotes gained a great opportunity by recovering a fumble on a Rattler punt return at the Rio 29. Two plays later, Ray Alaniz bolted through right guard for a 13-yard gain to the 14. On third and four, Coyote quarterback Irving Garcia ran a sprintout around right end for a six-yard pickup to the 2. On first and goal, the Coyotes tried a running play around right end, but the ball was knocked loose and rolled over the end zone sideline, ending the threat and giving the Rattlers a touchback and possession at their 20.

On the next play, Perez flipped a short pass to Jacob Guerra, who caught the ball just past the 25, broke loose down the left sideline, evaded a defender just past midfield, and motored down the field before finally being caught by a Coyote defender just short of the goal line, but the ball was knocked loose and bounced over the end zone sideline, giving the Coyotes a touchback at their 20. On the play, Guerra was credited with a 79-yard reception.

The rest of the first half was largely uneventful, with a Coyote punt rolling dead at the Rio 1 after covering 45 yards with less than 30 seconds remaining. On second down, Perez connected with a receiver at the 5 and the Rattlers were able to run out the clock. The two teams then went into their respective locker rooms with the game still scoreless.

After returning the second half kickoff to their 36, the Rattlers launched a promising drive when Perez found Victor Marquez for an eight-yard completion to the Rio 49, and a personal foul against the Coyotes on the play moved the ball to the La Joya 36. On third and 12, the drive died when a pass sailed incomplete inside the 25. The ensuing punt forced the Coyotes to set up shop at their 12.

Quarterback Irving Garcia threw a short pass to Joseph Moreno, who broke free down the left sideline for a 20-yard completion to the Coyote 33. The drive seemed stalled when the Coyotes were forced to punt on fourth and six, but the ball was advanced five yards to the 42 when a Rattler player lined up offside. On fourth and one, the Coyotes gambled and succeeded when Garcia snuck for the first down at the 43.

The Coyotes advanced to the Rattler 22 when Joseph Moreno and Ray Alaniz each ripped off 18-yard runs. On third and five, the Rattlers were flagged for pass interference in the end zone, moving the ball to the 5. Two plays later, Irving Garcia lunged through the middle across the goal line for a one-yard scoring run with 3:22 left in the third quarter. The extra point kick was on target to give the Coyotes a 7-0 advantage.

The Rattlers immediately countered with a 72-yard scoring march. Perez found Rafael Gutierrez for a 10-yard completion to the Rio 38, and the quarterback found an opening on the left side for a 12-yard run to the Coyote 43. Perez then threw a short pass and the receiver broke loose for a 13-yard completion to the 30. On fourth and 10, Perez was heavily rushed, but connected with Javier Garcia, who caught the ball at the 30 and scampered just inside the 20 for a 10-yard completion and a first down.

On third and six, Perez flipped a short pass on the left side to Jacob Guerra, who scampered into the end zone untouched for a 16-yard scoring pass with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. The Coyotes held on to their slim 7-6 lead by blocking the extra point kick.

After the kickoff, the Coyotes were able to carve out one first down, but could advance no further than midfield. On fourth down, the punt snap was high and the low kick was blocked and the bouncing ball rolled past several Rattlers before a Rio player finally fell on the ball at the Coyote 13.

On first down, the Rattlers immediately cashed in on the opportunity when Diego Garcia found a hole at right guard and bolted into the end zone untouched for a 13-yard scoring romp with 9:30 remaining in the game. The Rattlers’ lead remained 12-7 when an attempted pass for two points was intercepted in the end zone.

The Coyotes gained good field position when Joseph Moreno returned the kickoff 35 yards to the La Joya 37. Irving Garcia then flipped a short pass to Frank Garcia, who raced to the Rio 49 for a 14-yard completion. The Rattler defense again stiffened and forced the Coyotes to punt from the Rio 46. The ensuing punt rolled dead at the 6 and the Rattlers could only advance to the 9. The Coyotes then achieved tremendous field position by returning the bouncing punt 22 yards to the Rattler 23.

On second and 12, the swarming Rattler defense sacked Garcia for a five-yard loss at the 30. On fourth and 15, Garcia tried a deep pass down the right sideline, but the ball sailed over the receiver’s head near the goal line, turning the ball over on downs to the Rattlers at their 28 with 2:29 left in the game. Two running plays gained 10 yards and the Rattlers then ran out the clock to clinch their hard-earned 12-7 victory.

The rugged Rattler defense limited the Coyotes to 150 total yards, 87 yards rushing and 63 yards passing. The Rattlers collected 248 total yards, 204 yards passing and 44 yards rushing.

Jason Perez completed 16 of 29 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. Jacob Guerra was the most productive Rattler receiver with four catches for 98 yards, including a 16-yard scoring reception. Javier Garcia contributed four catches for 49 yards, and Diego Garcia and Victor Marquez each achieved three receptions for 27 and 16 yards, respectively. Diego Garcia gained 15 yards on two carries, including a 13-yard scoring romp, and Jason Perez carved out 17 yards on eight attempts.

The Rattlers, now 1-0 for the season, will host the Zapata Hawks this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium in another non-district battle. The Rattlers will then launch District 31-5A play on the road on Friday, Sept. 9.

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