There were the typical ups and downs we come to expect from the first scrimmage, as North took on Harlingen Friday night at Richard R. Flores Stadium. The Cougars had trouble moving the ball for awhile there but rebounded with a touchdown drive in the second (live) portion, and were rolling for another one when time ran out on the evening.
Defensively, the Coogs struggled with the quick-striking Harlingen receiver-screen pass attack but held the Cardinals out early on thanks to an interception from Carlos Coronado. Though Harlingen broke a few long gains and scored three times, they did not run the ball that well.
For the North D, among the standouts were hard-hitting Jo Jo Munoz and new faces Ernesto Garcia at LB and Roel de Leon at safety. End Humberto Martinez also made some plays as the Coogs kicked off their 2017 season with a very difficult opponent.
New QB Frankie Zuniga started slowly against a fast defensive crew from Harlingen, but he came on midway through, and eventually led a nice drive. He hit sophomore Izaiah Rangel and Demetrio Tovar with consistency, and also got a great catch up top from Ricky Alaniz. Junior runner Christian Flores had his breaks in the scrimmage, showing the speed and elusiveness that have the coaches excited about his addition to the team, and Zuniga capped a TD march in the fourth quarter by following a 25-yard scramble with an 11-yard scoot up the middle for six.
In all, the Coog first-teamers were outgained 233 to 134 but showed enough in the major phases to move forward with expectations undashed. New kicker Frank Cantu pounded the ball well, as he attempts to follow up fellow soccer star Azael de Leon, a tremendous specialist a year ago. Rangel, the lanky youngster, got some time under center as well as at receiver, and turned in a run for a first down.
Next the Coogs go up against Mission, this week on the road. Their regular season opener is against Brownsville Vets.
CAMP NOTES: WHAT DID YOU DO THIS SUMMER?
COOGS’ 7-ON-7 EXPERIENCE SHOULD PAY OFF
There are varied opinions about 7-on-7, and always have been. Folks say it helps the QB-receiver group work on timing, and that’s a fact. Others note that there is a huge difference between pitch and catch in shorts and doing it in the real game, with spit flying and helmets knocking. Again true.
But one thing is certain, and that’s this: when a team can go a ways in the annual 7-on-7 derby during the summer, it brings confidence, camaraderie and hope for the future.
For North, this is the case, as its summer crew advanced to College Station a month or two back, with new QB Zuniga at the commands. Senior Ethan Vela, expected to be a key member of the offense again this year, said that the team’s success was a big deal, in many ways.
“We beat some real good teams to get there, it was just an awesome experience,” said the prominently muscled athlete whose club can list Harlingen, Weslaco, and city rival Vela among the vanquished. “That gave the receiver group a lot of confidence, it really did and we expect to keep it going once the season starts.”
The often overlooked aspect of touch football is the defensive work that gets done. Obviously it’s half offense and half defense, meaning that the stop crew gets its share of reps trying to stymie the opposing ground-gainers.
“We really got a lot of good out of it,” said junior linebacker Mario Rodriguez. “It gave us some new guys a chance to see what it’s like, like Ernesto [Garcia, a fresh prospect at LB). That guy did real well and he’s hungry, we all are. We have a basically new defense but they are fast guys with a lot of heart, they want to play and it showed during 7-on-7.”
Coach Rene Saenz notes that even with the games the team lost in the summer, the score was always close.
“We came down to the last drive just about every time, which says a lot about the guys,” he said. “In the past we would do that and not always finish games, but I think with this group we have now, we can expect to do a better job at finishing.”
Zuniga, a compact athlete with a solid arm, gives the team a dimension it had last year with veteran Cristian Espinoza.
“He can take off and get some yards, which is always nice,” the coach commented. “Right now we are working with Frankie on decision-making, and he’s getting it down. When to stay in the pocket and when to take off, all that stuff. So we fell that 7-on-7, overall, was a good deal for us, we gained some confidence and continued to work on timing with each other.”