When Cristian Flores returned the third period kickoff 79 yards to the Brownsville Veterans 22-yard-line, the Cougars – then up 21-10 – looked to be in terrific shape. They had amassed 213 first-half yards, gotten a handful of big plays, and defensively had contained monumental QB Gustavo Vazquez, perhaps the Valley’s best athlete.
But then it all went up in smoke, as over the next 24 minutes North would gain just two first downs and surrender 29 points in a row amid a flurry of mistakes such as penalties and ill-timed mental miscues.
The upshot of the 39-21 opening home loss to Vets was that though North showed signs of excellence, the Coogs need to refocus, physically and emotionally, in time to face Sharyland on the road Friday.
The Coogs were flagged 17 times for 126 yards, costing them momentum time and again. They rushed 27 times for just 53 yards, less than two yards per carry, and experienced troubles on special teams throughout.
The bright spots were ample, as the team rushed out to a 14-0 lead after 11 minutes and posted an 11-point advantage at the half. Frankie Zuniga (12 for 19 passing for 210 yards, ran for a TD) had his highlights, including a 33-yard scoring pass to Demetrio Garcia and a 52-yard bomb to sophomore Izaiah Rangel for six points.
The first scratch was set up by an interception by junior cornerback Carlos Coronado early in the night, and came on a fourth-and-27 heave from Zuniga into the left corner of the end zone to Garcia. The beginning sequence was also a harbinger of woes to follow, however as North had been penalized for delay of game on the opening kickoff and then five more yards for kicking out of bounds. The Coogs also suffered a hold and another delay on that first drive after the pick.
Nonetheless, the D continued to play well with a 7-0 lead, holding Vets out after the visitor had reached the 10. Later, Zuniga found Rangel on a crossing route that carried 50 yards to the Charger 16, the quarterback then racing around right end for a 14-0 lead at 1:32 of the first.
From there Vets got rolling, cutting the margin to 14-10 until Zuniga sailed an aerial to a wide-open Rangel for a 52-yard TD at 0:48 of the half.
Then it got iffy.
Flores, who ran for 36 yards on 11 trips, made the fine kick return but a motion penalty (one of six Friday) and a blocked field goal stunted the charge. In four snaps, Vets was within four points and then North saw a punt travel just 12 yards. Thus began a field position battle that Vets won by then punting to the Coog 2. By 3:39 of the third it was a 2-point game after a safety due to a low punt snap, Vets corralling Frank Cantu in the end zone.
Though the defense was tiring, it managed to stymie the next Vets drive at the North 1. But on the next play North fumbled the ball away and with 24 seconds left in the third, Vazquez pounded in for a 26-21 Charger bulge.
North went three and out, Vets scored again in eight plays and after recording two sacks, the Chargers got the ball back and instantly converted a 41-yard run for the final margin.
Coach Rene Saenz’ club, which had given up a 14-0 lead last year in a loss to this same foe, played without its starting tight end and this hampered the run game somewhat, especially against a Vets’ front with four kids all weighing more than 220 pounds. Rangel (five catches for 129 yards) was not in the mix during the second half as Vets made adjustments to try and take him away.
On the stop side of the ball, North wore down during the night, though JoJo Munoz (nine tackles), Frank Olivo (11), and Mario Rodriguez (eight) played well. Roel de Leon and Irvin Juarez combined for 13 stops and the latter batted down a pass. The defense allowed 264 rushing yards and 90 passing markers, for a total of 354, while the North offense collected 263 total, 48 after the break.
As they looked to the second night of work, the Coogs noted that Sharyland, long one of the Valley’s best, was obliterated by Weslaco East Friday, 62-0. This sets up a match between clubs with something to prove and also reminds folks of the pair’s prior meetings, including a memorable area playoff game in the rain back in 2009.