When he transferred in last year, Cristian Flores was immediately anointed as the next great runner, and the Cougars were super glad to have him. And as the season progresses, the junior back is starting to hit his stride, with 100-yard games in the past four outings.
He’s hitting the holes hard and there are more holes to hit, as indicated by Friday’s key victory over Econ. Running with force and explosion, Flores amassed 193 yards to lead a North ground game that collected 302 on 51 carries, leading to a 28-14 win that puts the team at 2-2 in District 31-6A and 3-4 overall. Straight ahead is the annual catfight with EHS, also 2-2 in league play, and the battle pits North – which rebounded from a dispiriting home loss to Pharr North in its previous outing – versus a solid Bobcat contingent bent on carving out a piece of the playoff rock again this season.
“I definitely want to show what I can do, obviously, every game,” said Flores, who carried seven times on an 8-play drive in the third period; he finished the march with a 2-yard burst at 5:30 and the Coogs, down 7-6 at the half, never trailed again. “The line is really coming together, there are more holes right now, and I am running hard, trying to help my team. And when the defense keys on me … 28, baby!”
No. 28 would be sophomore Izaiah Rangel, and he turned in his best performance since replacing injured starter Frankie Zuniga several weeks back. The rangy youngster passed well, hitting 8 of 12 with no picks and a TD to Ricky Alaniz that made it 21-7 later in the third quarter. It was a leaping circus catch from the junior Alaniz, by the way. Rangel also flashed his athleticism with an 11-yard TD run in the second period, and a 38-yarder for six with six minutes left to go to ice the ball game.
Those factors: improved effort up front from the O-line, fabulous slashing work from Flores, and a mature, mistake-free night from Rangel. They all contributed to a very important result for the Coogs. But do not forget the defense, because it was top-shelf all the way Friday.
Limiting the Jags (0-4, 2-4) to 192 total yards, the North stop troop allowed just nine first downs and 57 rushing yards on 22 Orange carries. Though Pete Segura got loose for a 58-yard touchdown in the second half (he had another long score nullified by penalty in the first), Econ did not keep the ball or move it well enough. Multiple injuries on the line have not helped at all in 2017, nor has the absence of RB Sonny Castillo and LB Nicholas Villanueva for extended periods of time.
The Jags actually scored first, on the first drive of the game, as two 15-yard penalties against North on the same play led to a 27-yard strike from Roger Barrientos to Jose Sauceda. Econ held the lead until the third when North took command. Albert Guerra came on for Barrientos in the second half and found Segura with the bomb cutting the margin to 21-14 at 10:16 of the fourth.
But then came a key mistake that helped determine the outcome. Energized by the lightning strike to Segura, the Jags then forced North into fourth and 6 near midfield. However the cover team ran into North punter Frank Cantu, good for five yards and a subsequent fourth-and-1 showdown, which Flores converted. Soon after, Rangel was zipping down the left sideline, untouched and almost unseen from the 38.
Coach Rene Saenz noted afterward that the Coogs had gone back to some power football to try and make more room for Flores, who now has 765 yards in seven tilts.
“We used the tight end, and a fullback, some double teams, and we loaded an area with four kids who had to come out and blast some room,” said Saenz, whose team comes into the EHS game on a roll. “It worked out pretty well, Cristian was running hard tonight, and we were able to get Izaiah loose as well. This was a confident game for Izaiah and I think he’ll build on this and be even better in the later games.”
Now the stage will be at Richard R. Flores Stadium Friday for some good old-fashioned smashmouth football between old friends. Much will be riding on the outcome and Saenz agreed that it’s beginning to look like old times around town.
“You can say that again,” he smiled, heading off to speak to a satisfied and improving club.