A very workmanlike night at the office for the Bobcats, steady and confident, and it got them within range to make the playoffs for the second season running.
Friday’s 30-14 defeat of North was huge, giving EHS third place all alone, a game ahead of three foes in District 31-6A; the ‘Cats welcome Southwest at home this week and will be at Pharr North Nov. 9. Barring a late curveball, J.J. Leija’s team, 4-4 overall, will compete in bi-district.
“We just came out with an attitude, after last week,” said Leija, speaking of the Oct. 19 loss to P-SJ-A. “We needed to come out and play Bobcat Football, fight the whole game, and we did that tonight. Although we made some mistakes, the effort was there. And we got the win, against another team contending for the playoffs.”
Despite the defeat dropping them to 2-3, 3-5, the Coogs are still in the hunt for a spot, but their remaining schedule (at P-SJ-A Memorial this week, the Bears to finish) is more difficult. North lost quarterback Izaiah Rangel in the first period to a shoulder injury and struggled to just nine first downs and a season-low 118 total yards Friday.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats generated a healthy 383 yards with underclassman runners Hearlin Benavides and Erik Cano each cracking 100 for the second week in a row. Junior passer Matt Cruz turned in a serviceable 7-for-14 night for 122 yards and the defense was flat impenetrable.
Limiting jitterbug Cristian Flores to 48 yards on 19 trips (nine carries for one yard or less) the gang-tackling unit led by junior LB Raymond Quintanilla used its quickness and energy to completely shut down North. Two fourth-quarter TD passes from Max Aguilar averted the shutout but by the time the Coogs got rolling it was 23-0, EHS.
As Leija stated, though, it was not a perfect performance from the ‘Cats, as they were plagued with holding penalties and defensive offside calls. Part of that can be chalked up to intensity (on defense) and part to a flag-happy officiating crew that seemed to be quick to take offense. EHS also missed a pair of field goals late in the first half when it was seeking to extend a 14-0 advantage on a somewhat wounded foe.
“We are definitely going to have to be sharper, and avoid so many mistakes,” said Leija, who led the team to the Dance in his debut season of 2016 and is poised to make a return this time around. “Once you get into this stage of the season, mistakes can really hurt what you are trying to accomplish.”
EHS got on the board in the Rivalry Game with a short-field drive of 12 yards, following Nathan Ochoa’s fine punt return and a personal foul penalty on North. Cruz ran in from the 11 to get the Red and Blue up 7-0 at 4:36. Later, after the Coogs faked a punt on fourth and 8 but came up short, Cruz found Cano for a 39-yard gainer through the air, leading to a 5-yard run from Benavides (143 yards) at 10:47.
Cano has truly energized the attack the past few weeks with his shifty ball-toting and breakaway speed. He found the end zone twice in the second half, once on a 42-yard scamper late in the third and later on an 18-yarder in the fourth. Before that first run, EHS had extended to 16-0 after a blocked punt by Athen Villanueva resulted in a safety.
EHS ran 20 more plays than North, committed no turnovers and got a fumble recovery by Ram Avitia and an interception by Abel Alonzo to go with the blocked punt.
Quintanilla continued to roam the green delivering vicious hits and the D got spirited work from DL C.J. Renteria (six stops, a half-sack) and improving Joseph Casarez, among others.
There were few bright spots for the Coogs, though hard-nosed veteran JoJo Munoz made a dozen tackles and recorded a sack. North had eight kids with at least eight tackles as they tried to contain an EHS rushing attack that rolled to 263 yards, breaking 200 for the third game in a row.