It is one of the oldest adages in the game, and it makes total sense that it be so: a one-goal lead is never quite safe.
This, the Cougars found out the hard way at home Friday, as they saw a 1-0 advantage float away into the night, thanks to twin lightning strikes from Vela in the last six minutes-plus.
The first was courtesy of Luis Flores, who sprinted under a long ball and slotted it home at 6:19. This equalized for the SaberCats, who had surrendered a surprise goal just 24 seconds into the match: a perfect lay-on from Carlos Rodriguez of North down the middle to Brandon Perez, who chipped past the keeper for the stunning early lead.
The second Vela goal will live forever as one of the most exciting moments in program history, no question. It came from Jacob Salinas and it was superb. The lanky junior hustler pounced on a loose ball coming out of the North box, half-slid into possession and came up firing, searing the twines from 25 yards out at 3:39 of the horn to send his teammates into absolute delirium.
The cannon shot was all it took to bring the Sabes a tremendous road result over a proud city rival and spoil the return of former coach Elias Moran – carrying the interim tag right now – to the home coaching box.
“I just reacted, went down and got it,” said Salinas after the celebration had begun. “I wasn’t sure I was focused to take it, but I was able to put it where I wanted it.”
The flash heroism ended a night on which the Coogs did not capitalize on the starting momentum, missing several solid chances from there and seeming to coast at times, content with the advantage. The one that didn’t hold up.
Moran’s counterpart, first-year coach Fred Garza, noted that his side continued its penchant for slow starts and smart finishes.
“It’s been that way all year it seems,” he said. “Even up in Corpus for the tournament we had, we come out a little cold, but gradually the guys get rolling, start to play well. As for that shot by Jacob, well, we practice it: when you get the recovery like that, I never say anything when we take a shot. In fact, I want them to recover and take a quick shot because when you get the opportunity to score, you need to do it.”
North nearly extended on a number of tries midway through the first half, coming close at 15 minutes and 7:45. But the Vela defense held as keeper Javier Montano and defender Alexis Ayala were solid in the crease. The latter came up with three sharp header clears Friday.
After the break the Sabes came on a bit, evening the run of play, getting a header try off a free kick at 30 minutes. At 22:40 Rodriguez of North knocked a tantalizing center ball that no teammates could negotiate, and at that point, the visiting side surged once more. At 16:00 Flores centered well, to no result and later Flores earned a shot attempt. North had an opportunity at 12:20 and once again at 8:30 but to no avail.
The breakthrough came after Vela gained possession and sent a pounding long pass into the attacking third, which Flores located and converted from the right side, mid-box. Feeling their oats after the equalizer, the Sabes ran up to a Flores shot that missed, leading to the amazing steal and score from Salinas.
As the District 31-6A fight begins, North is struggling under the burden of uncertainty. While they still possess a handful of the league’s best players, the Coogs have some work to do to regain consistency after a coaching change and the loss of their non-district victories due to the use of an ineligible athlete.
Vela on the other hand has started with a bang, and though the Sabes do not have that much depth this season, they worked hard to hang in there a goal down, and good things happened at the end.
In other starting action Friday, Econ blasted EHS 4-1. The Jags were set for P-SJ-A Memorial Tuesday and then a trip to P-SJ-A Friday, while Vela will be at home against EHS and Southwest this week. The Cougars host Memorial Tuesday and then go to Pharr North Friday.