It was Public Enemy, back in the day, telling us, “Don’t believe the hype!” But Friday’s first half was too good to be true, everything it could be; the place was straight up amped, the Bobcats and SaberCats going back and forth with excellent plays.
In a five-minute span of a first quarter that seemed to last a week, the city rivals combined for five touchdowns, and a breathless half eventually wound down with 50 on the board, 29 for the eventual winner, Vela.
Don’t call it a blowout, even though the final was 43-21, because the underdog ‘Cats were outstanding for much of the night, hanging with the vaunted Sabes and putting the rest all the local fears of a mismatch.
Still, in running to 5-0 the SaberCats were masters of first explosion, then adjustment, and finally, patience. After being gouged for 185 yards in the first half, the Vela defense came to the dance with much better overall performance after the break, shutting EHS out. The Bobcats ran a total of 77 plays to just 45 for Vela, but the Sabes made the breakaways that helped spell the difference.
One of the stars of the scoring parade was Brandon Guzman of Vela, who scored on pass receptions of 19 and 50 yards, ran 58 yards with a jet sweep down to the EHS 1, and turned in a fumble recovery on special teams as well. The senior wideout said that the game was fun to play in, especially the first half.
“Fun and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Guzman, whose first TD came at 4:06 of the first to put his team up, 22-14. “They [Bobcats] came to play, got to give them respect for that.”
On his long run in the second half, Guzman exemplified the cool Vela vibe, a feel that kept the team calm even with EHS matching every blow with one of its own. He started at his own 41, left to right, and when seemingly stopped by the sideline at the EHS 25, just would not quit.
“I think I was out of bounds, by like three steps,” he laughed afterward. “But I didn’t hear the whistle, so I just kept on running.”
Edinburg, falling to 1-1 in District 31-6A, 2-3 all told, put up a game effort for 24 minutes, getting the accustomed running gems from Hearlin Benavides, who crashed in from the 1 and jetted loose from the 26 to garner the team’s first two scores. When he jammed it home from the 1 early in the second period, the ‘Cats were right there, down 1, but then came Guzman’s 50-yard burst a few minutes later.
Benavides picked up 76 yards in the first half and added a 52-yard reception out of the backfield, but the Nicaraguan Nightmare suffered cramps in the second half and ended up with 97 total, the first time he’s been held under 100 in a month. EHS cranked out 24 first downs but gained just 2.9 yards on 55 rushes, while Vela ran 23 times for 188 yards (8.4) and got a fine night from senior QB Nate Garcia (15 of 22, 242 yards, including 218 in the wild first half pinball game).
Special teams was a big part of the show Friday, as EHS speedster Eric Cano returned a kickoff 90 yards to the Vela 10, leading to Benavides’ first score and a 7-7 tie. For the Sabes, Tate Scott was perfect punting the football, pinning the Bobcats deep twice in the second half, once at the 1. EHS had three longish drives in the second half but could not really generate a scoring threat, as Nick Enriquez and the rest kept them without a scratch through the final two stanzas. Enriquez, who made 18 tackles, said that after he and his teammates figured out what EHS wanted to do, they came a-runnin’.
“I started to know what they were doing, and when that’s the case you can cheat up and be moving on the snap,” said the senior safety, who got ample assistance from Luis Gutierrez (12 tackles), Ian Ochoa (16 stops, perhaps his best game as a Sabe), and Richard Campos (in on two sacks).
After getting shelled a little in the first half, that unit returned to its comfort zone after the intermission. Meanwhile, the Vela running game got a boost from Aaron Alvarez (a 46-yard score in the second half), with sophomore Justin Cantu (seven catches, 111 yards) dominating a stretch of the first half with three straight grabs, the second resulting in a sweet 60-yard tightrope touchdown down the left sideline and the third on a 2-point conversion that gave the Sabes a 15-7 lead.
Vela ended with 430 yards of offense as the burly Alvarez totaled 97 on the ground on just 12 pounding trips; the A-Train has some wheels, baby! Meanwhile EHS did not have the big plays outside of Cano’s kick return and Benavides’ 52-yard catch. The Bobcats slowly moved down the field to those 24 first downs but could not match the foe’s pace and detonation abilities.
Coach John Campbell of Vela expressed satisfaction with the win and a 5-0 start, commenting that the atmosphere and the challenge were both notable.
“My first Rivalry Game with EHS and it was something else,” he said. “The Bobcats came to play, they deserve a lot of credit. We continued to adjust to what they were showing, we came out and played better defense in the second half.”
His counterpart on the other side of Richard R. Flores Stadium was disappointed with the result, but not with the way his club slugged it out Friday night.
“We gave them a real fight, the kids never backed down once,” said J.J. Leija, whose team now prepares for a road game against surprising 2-0 P-SJ-A Memorial Thursday. “We came out a little flat in the second half but overall I think we still have what it takes to make the playoffs, to contend for the title.”