HARLINGEN – It was a long time coming, this one, but well worth the struggle as North claimed a bi-district soccer win here Friday, sinking Harlingen South, 2-1, in overtime.
It was a game played in the air for the most part as the Hawks blasted deep ball after deep ball, hoping to run under the rockets and score. North, meanwhile, matched its 32-6A foe up top, using clearing headers and set pieces to try for the victory.
That the Coogs accomplished the feat, the second bi-district title in Coach Elias Moran’s five-year reign, is due to endurance and perseverance. And Azael de Leon.
In a tight scoreless scrum late in the second half, the visitor – playing on the road despite its league title – pushed a goal across when freshman Andres Garcia ran under a free kick by de Leon and flicked it into the goal at the 9-minute mark. Undaunted, South then raced back down to tie it on a cannon shot of a throw-in that reached the back post, where a Hawk headed in the equalizer just 49 seconds after the North scratch.
Rather than be discouraged, the Coogs, who had dominated the run of play in the second half after fourth-seed South had more or less won the scoreless first half, got down to business in the extra sessions. They kept control of the ball with Carlos Sandoval and Carlos “Gallo” Rodriguez playing very spirited soccer, and near the end of the first OT of 10 minutes, the strong-legged de Leon punched in a masterful free kick from a full 32 yards out, an absolute laser that froze and defeated the South keeper.
After containing the South long game for another 10 minutes, North was through to area for the second time in recent memory, the last occasion coming back in 2014.
“We came in knowing that even a fourth seed from that league is going to be tough,” said Moran, who praised the team play of his side along with its resilience. “This was a 50-50 game all the way, though I think in the second half we had a bit of an edge overall. Azael, well, I think he should be MVP of our league, he has done so much to help this team.”
The successful road win came on a night when North’s league and city rival Econ also punched a ticket forward, beating Los Fresnos at Richard R. Flores Stadium. That game also took OT as the Jags got a hat trick from Abe Alferez in beating the Falcons, 3-1.
North moves on to play Laredo LBJ, which defeated McAllen High, 3-2 last week, while the Jags will face a tough task in taking on Juarez-Lincoln, Friday at home.
LBJ is 18-7-6 for the season and now has won six in a row by a combined score of 22-6. The Wolves were as always a visitor to various Valley preseason tournaments, where they won seven of nine games with two ties; the teams to beat them were Rivera and Juarez-Lincoln. Last year LBJ was knocked out in bi-district against La Joya.
The Jags are in against a Huskies group that has been one of the Valley’s best in 2017. Lincoln defeated North early in the season, and also beat LBJ, later splitting with McAllen in district and winning twice against Mission. The Eagles went out against Alexander last week, and Alexander now tackles Rivera; the winner of that match will be paired with the North-LBJ victor. Econ-Lincoln gets either Laredo United or P-SJ-A Memorial, after the Longhorns beat La Joya and the Wolverines upset Hanna Friday.
OUT, OUT AND OUT
The girls were not so successful as all three locals vanished in the first round.
Vela expected a tough challenge against Harlingen South in the opening match of the doubleheader before the North boys performed. But the Lady SaberCats allowed a flash goal 17 seconds into the fray, and never recovered, ending up on the wrong end of a one-sided 6-1 throttling.
Senior Lucia Valdez scored the only Vela goal, in the second half, but scoring star Chery Chavez had few opportunities as South dominated the game from the outset. After the quick goal, however, Vela dug in and held the line until the 22-minute mark, when the Lady Hawks rumbled to three bang-bang netters, putting it away.
Also going down was the league champ Econ, which was upset by No. 4 seed Brownsville Rivera, 3-1 Friday, ending a 24-win season way before anyone had expected. North, up against a juggernaut, Los Fresnos, battled well before dropping a 4-0 decision.
Next year will be a season of adjustment for the city girls, as Econ loses its one-two punch of Krysta Armstrong and Ayssa Ozuna, Vela says goodbye to the four-year wonder Chavez, and North heads forward minus graduating seniors Itzamar Rios and Esmer Cano.