J.J. Leija launched into the school’s alma mater just now, easy pickings as he is of course an alumnus of Edinburg High. Now coaching his former team, the second-year mentor was belting it out with vigor after a satisfying home win Thursday, a victory his club needed to secure with a bye week coming up and the District 31-6A opener ahead, against city rival Econ Sept. 29.
“We tried to come out here with a different attitude,” Leija explained, after a solid 28-9 triumph over Palmview lifted the Bobcats to 1-2 following losses to Rowe and Lopez. “We had some lapses the first two weeks, so we changed some things up, in practice, pregame, just to recover the excitement. And I think we have done that.”
EHS was exciting at times in all phases, from the terrific churning running style of Hearlin Benavides (161 yards and two scores) to the tag team of the Brothers Villanueva, Athen and Angel, who combined for 16 tackles. Adrian Garza continued to emerge as a playmaker with a 23-yard TD reception on the final snap of the first half and Manny Salinas’ dependable work in the secondary was aided by a fine second half of work from Lazaro Patlan, who sacked the Lobo passer twice and came up with another tackle for loss.
But the most exciting thing for the ‘Cats was the way they handled success Thursday night. Having jetted out to a 14-0 lead in an eventual 28-24 loss at Lopez last time out, EHS once again assumed a first-period advantage of 14-0 versus Palmview. This time, however, the quick start held up, as after the visitors cut the margin to 14-9 late in the second, Matt Cruz led the offense on a sharp Two-Minute Drill down to the 23. With time running out Cruz rolled to his right and at the last instant sailed a ball to the right corner of the end zone, Garza collecting it to send the home crowd soaring into ecstasy.
“You can’t just flip a switch and say, ‘Be consistent,’ a team has to work on doing it,” Leija added. “We just came out with more fight and excitement, the guys all know they have to work hard, fight for what they want, even to hold their spot.”
The ‘Cats had no trouble with that order early on, holding the Lobos (1-2) to three successive three-and-out possessions. Benavides keyed the first EHS march for points with a 36-yard burst, and then finished it himself from the 3 at 8:31. Soon it was a fat lead as Benavides – going north and south in a hurry behind a line that did a nice job – scooted in from the 21 at 5:49.
The home side appeared to be ready to seal the deal way ahead of schedule but a subsequent march to the Palmview 32 imploded after a holding call. The Lobos then produced nine points to get back into things, Garza’s miracle finish to the first half stopping their momentum.
With senior Danny Shawnee at the helm for the second half the ‘Cats held their own until the fourth, when the strong-armed North transfer floated a perfect throwback to Ramon Lopez, who raced in for a 17-yard TD at 11:39 of the fourth.
From there, the D again took over paced by Patlan and Salinas; the latter had come up with a block of a Palmview field goal in the first half, and is right at home back at safety alongside converted corner Rollie Martinez, himself a playmaker of note. That pair had led the Bobcats in stops through two bouts, and their CB secondary mates Nathan Ochoa and Abel Alonzo have been steady.
Up toward the line, LB Athen Villanueva and brother Angel (plugs the middle of the D front) stand out with their fierce tackling and fire. Ramon Avitia made nine tackles from his LB slot and seems to relish the contact without batting an eye.
Now the ‘Cats can rest up and start preparing for the Jags.
“We know that Palmview and Econ had a helluva game,” said Leija, speaking of the 13-9 Econ win over the Lobos two weeks back. “So we wanted to see how we could do against Palmview. We need to be ready because the Econ game is always big, especially since this year it’s the district opener.”