PHARR – It was not one of their most stellar nights in some ways but when it counted, the Bobcats were able to push through, beating Pharr North here Thursday, 23-21, wrapping up the regular season with a strong 5-2 mark in District and clinching the top Division I seed for bi-district.
Edinburg withstood a barrage of costly penalties in the second half to salt away a huge road result, and now prepares to face Los Fresnos in the first round of the playoffs this week. Coach J.J. Leija’s club never trailed and got the usual piston-churning game from junior Hearlin Benavides, who pounded for 167 yards to raise his season total to 1, 584 yards. But penalty flags nearly ruined the evening; it took a dropped TD pass in the last minute, plus a 40-yard Raider field goal try that sailed just wide left at the buzzer, but bottom line, EHS found a way.
“I put us in a hole there toward the end, and that’s on me,” said Leija, referencing a fourth quarter fake punt that failed, giving the Raiders one last chance to come down and win it, which they nearly did. “But we’ll learn from all these things, myself included. It’s a win, and we’re going onward and getting ready for the postseason. We just cannot take any team lightly, that’s one thing we know now.”
Truly the Raiders, fighting with an outside chance for their playoff lives, came alive in the second half, throwing the ball well and trimming the EHS lead every time it looked like the ‘Cats would pull away.
Up 16-7 at the half, Edinburg was surprised by an onside kick, with the Raiders recovering at their own 49 and proceeding to drive for a score at 10:09. The ‘Cats suffered three penalties on their next drive, reaching the Raider 25 before having to punt. Then North came down and got to the ‘Cats 35 before a great tackle on a screen pass by DE Joseph Casarez resulted in a 10-yard loss.
Then Benavides got rolling again, carrying five times for 54 yards to lead the team to the end zone, at 10:27 of the fourth on the second short TD of the night from classmate Matt Cruz.
Benavides, injured last season, suggested that while he’s not totally surprised at the success he’s had – the hard-running powerpack is among the Valley leaders in yards and a sure-fire All-Valley candidate – he knows one reason to focus on.
“The line has been great this year, they are all guts and heart,” said the likable back, who has put together one of the finest seasons in city annals. “They have pushed me this season and so have the coaches, and I really also pushed myself to come out and be the best I can be.”
Problem was Thursday, every time EHS started to rock and roll, a mistake would come calling. The ‘Cats were called for interfering with a fair catch on the ensuing kickoff, setting the Raiders up inside the 50. Soon it was 23-21 at 8:24, and crunch time had arrived.
The Raiders threatened with a march that attained the Bobcat 44 before C.J. Renteria turned the tide with a big-time stuff on fourth and short. However, Edinburg gave it back with the ill-fated trickery, although the call was on fourth and 2 and was defensibly a reasonable gamble for the knockout blow.
From the 49 the Raiders ran six plays to reach the EHS 23; luckily one of the snaps was a pass downfield that a North receiver muffed in the end zone. The field goal attempt was solid but … just offline.
So, EHS had survived. The ‘Cats can look back to the end of the first half for some numbers work, because it was then that they benefited from two flags on the home side with no time remaining, and this error allowed David Cepeda to boot a 24-yard field goal for a 16-7 lead. The three points there atoned for a missed extra point after the first score, and ended up being the difference, technically.
Cruz went in from the 1 at 5:26 of the first for that 6-0 lead, and Benavides cracked in from the 5 late in the period to make it 13-0. North answered with a score at 1:11 of the half, whereupon the ‘Cats got a clutch grab from Kandon Dortch to get into field goal range as the clock waned.
Defensive stars from the win included junior Raymond Quintanilla, who made 12 tackles and continued to show progress in punting the football. Renteria, Lazaro Patlan, and Casarez got fine pressure on the passer in the first half, while Athen Villanueva made seven stops and fielded a pair of kickoff cleanly, to boot.