Mired in some serious field-position woes and trailing the rival Jags by a pair of touchdowns at the half, EHS was in need of some old-fashioned miracles Friday night. Thanks to a handful of heroes amid a team full of kids that refused to not believe, the Bobcats pulled it off, roaring from 17 down to toss 28 points on the board in the final 12 minutes.
The result, sealed by Manny Salinas’ thrilling 78-yard interception return for a TD with 0:19 left, was 28-17, and now EHS (1-0 in 31-6A, 2-2 overall) comes into the showdown against unbeaten Vela with a real head of steam.
“We told them at the half that they just had to get together, stick together, that was the main idea,” said Coach J.J. Leija, whose club came alive to stave off defeat, getting a terrific leadership job from Matt Cruz, hard running from Hearlin Benavides, and plenty of amazing snaps from the receiving corps to complement a defense that shut out the Jags (10-1, 2-2) in the second half. “They are maturing, they are learning, and they are getting better every week.”
For the Jags it was a disheartening defeat, after they had manufactured a solid lead in the first half thanks to a short TD run by Lee Maldonado (83 yards, 15 carries) and a 47-yard strike from Albert Guerra to flier Pete Segura. The latter leapt and took the ball away from a defender with a one-handed stab before sprinting to the house. Directional punts allowed Econ a short field while the ‘Cats spent most of the half pinned in their own territory, looking at mucho green.
Econ added a field goal late in the third to go up 17-0, but the drive was a harbinger of things to come. Two motion penalties kept the Orange from the end zone and as the night wore on, they were to draw a couple of ill-fated flags for personal fouls.
Edinburg had started the third with a good drive only to see it stall. Cruz, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago, was now on in relief of starter Danny Shawnee, and he took the team downfield the next time he had the chance, hitting a big ball to Antoine Woodard for 39 yards. Ramon Lopez, who was tremendous with six grabs for 95 yards, hauled in a 22-yard toss from Cruz at 11:53, on the first snap of the fourth actually.
Now up just 10, the Jags could not hold it or move it, as rangy Jaime Zamora was a huge force for the resurgent ‘Cats, making three tackles. Soon EHS was off and running again. Cruz, who was 7 for 11 for 139 yards and two scores and also rushed for 51 yards, engineered an 8-play drive for the TD, enjoying a crushing crackback block from Woodard to earn a first down at the Econ 14, and eventually hitting that same teammate on the post pattern for a TD that narrowed the gap to 3 at 5:47.
With the home side starting to percolate for real now, the pressure was on the Jags but they could not run out the clock. Instead, Edinburg came down with a superb march from its own 17, getting a quick burst from Benavides (118 yards, the teams each picked up 160 on the ground) aided by a mammoth block from OL Nelson Carrillo. Lopez turned in another clutch reception and for the second drive in a row the Jags committed a personal foul good for 15 Bobcat steps.
With time on the wane and the EHS cheerleaders past ballistic on the sidelines, Cruz made a second effort to punch in from the 1 and succeeded at 1:34.
Though they had been silent through the half – they have not yet managed 20 points in a game this season – the Jags came to play for the final chance, and achieved the Bobcat 30 before Salinas jumped into the route and snared a pass, heading untouched the length of the field to cap the incredible comeback. Salinas was part of a great second half performance by the ‘Cats, and he finished with eight tackles, two shy of Athen Villanueva and one more than the trio of Raymond Quintanilla, Rollie Martinez, and Angel Villanueva.
For the Jags, six kids had double digits but such high tackle totals also meant the D was out there for way too long after the intermission. Econ’s Domingo Rios continues to impress, and made a pick and had 11 stops Friday. Michael Saenz was strong at LB while Alex Zuniga came on to make six hits and record a sack.
But it was not meant to be for the Jags, who will be back at home to face P-SJ-A Memorial this week. The Bobcats now gird for the test ahead, knowing that they stole one fair and square against a city rival, but also understanding that no amount of late night craziness will save them if they endure a slow half of play against the offensive machine of Vela. Still, this team is ready for the challenge.
When asked if this season is starting to resemble the magical mystery tour of 2016, when the unheralded ‘Cats started slowly only to take the league by storm and make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, Leija just smiled.