In the quest to get the Damian Gonzalez Era off to a rousing start, the Cougars came awfully close Saturday night at home. But every time they looked ready to roll through, some glitch or another spoiled the debut for North’s alum.

The Coogs came down to the last minute with a chance to win it against visiting Mercedes, after having had a terrific 52-yard scoring pass to Roel de Leon wiped away by penalty earlier in the second half. Despite having surrendered a 10-0 first half lead, North whittled away and had a shot. Max Aguilar’s perfect long ball on the post pattern appeared to set the team up at the Tiger 20 with 1:56 left. But at the last minute, the Mercedes safety knocked the ball loose for a fourth-down incomplete, and that was that.

It was that kind of close-call night, as the Coogs gained just 152 total yards, amassing three first downs in each half, but found ways to stay in it. Their defense was nearly as stingy, giving the 5A Tigers 245 yards but taking three turnovers and making a pair of sacks.

The clincher on Mercedes’ comeback was 132 yards passing in the second half, as North struggled to cover in the back four. Down 10-6 in the third, the Tigers connected on twin bombs for scores, to lead 19-10.

But Gonzalez’ crew kept slugging, and a trusty senior helped resurrect the charge. End Humberto Martinez hopped a screen pass and raced 20 yards for a TD midway through the fourth, and the roar from the North faithful could be heard clear down at Stripes.

Martinez keyed a stop with two tackles: the Coogs had the ball and the momentum. They got to the 32 of Mercedes as Aguilar found Jose Cruz for a 15-yard gain, followed by two sharp runs from Armando Ramirez. North could get no further, however, and went down to defeat when the last gasp pass did not connect.

The start for this one was solid, as the home side fielded the kickoff at 6 p.m. The first period was sloppy and each team would go on to commit more than 100 yards worth of penalties. DB Carlos Coronado made the first big play with a long second quarter punt return that led to a 2-yard run out of the Wildcat set by Jacob Peralez. North rushed for a decent 131 yards on the night.

The defense got a dynamite game from burly junior LB Jacob Alvarado (10 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery) who showed excellent vision and quickness to the football, and a load of bricks when he got there. He pounced on a loose ball at the Mercedes 23, and the Coogs picked up a field goal at 5:40 for a 10-0 advantage. LB Juan Rodriguez helped cause the fumble and looks like a keeper for sure.

The Tigers came back with a drive culminated by a TD run late in the half, but missed the point-after.

Disaster struck early in the third as North fumbled a punt away and allowed Mercedes to take the lead, 13-10 at 7:25. After a Cougar three-and-out, the enemy launched to a 19-10 lead with a wide-open receiver hauling in a 48-yard score.

Trying to come back, North made a march but an illegal chop block ended the threat. Then came Martinez’ interception return to narrow the margin. He had six stops and a sack to go with the INT while Seth Villarreal contributed seven tackles from his D-line spot. Josue Martinez and sophomore Malachai Ortega combined for 11 tackles from the secondary, and again, the D was sound up front, hurting a bit in back.

Now the Coogs get back to work in time for Thursday’s home matchup with McAllen High, a club that comes in 0-1 also after an opening debit suffered against Brownsville Lopez.