Three games into the 2018 run and it’s starting to look like throwback time for the Jags. Having allowed a single solitary touchdown in starting 2-1, Econ has just been fabulous on defense, bringing to mind the great Wrecking Crews of old, circa 2006-07. While it is too early to say whether the current stop troop will go down in school lore beside the helmet-shattering Mike Garza and Bryan Iglesias group, it can be noted that Gabe Pena’s D is fire right now.
“The defense is ahead at this stage of the game, definitely,” said the eighth-year coach, minutes after the Jags wrapped up a second shutout, 12-0 against visiting Laredo LBJ Thursday. “That group is playing lights-out so far this year. And the thing is, tonight we kept the ball, managed the clock, gave them some rest.”
As they head into this week’s final non-district ball game – another Thursday homer, versus Roma – the Jags are confident in what they are doing.
“Those defensive guys prepare well, which is important,” Pena intoned. “And they believe in their schemes. We’ve been a bit banged up on that side of the ball, but the kids have played through it.”
Prominent parts of the D crew, linebackers Marco Plata and Rolando Alvizo, have battled through bumps and bruises but each was excellent against LBJ, combining for 18 tackles and leading a charge that forced three turnovers. Plata, rangy at 6-1, has tremendous vision and anticipation, while a bulked up Alvizo – up from his former spot at safety – is guaranteed to turn in multiple kill shots per night.
A third senior, DB Abel Moreno, led the way with 11 tackles and the Jags got after the visiting Wolves from the outset, turning a turnover on the game’s second play – a fumble corralled by LB Isaac Chapa – into a field goal from strong-legged junior Ramiro Gonzalez. Later, senior Jeremy Fernandez hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from classmate Albert Guerra and Econ led, 9-0. That drive was vintage Jags, with seven straight successful runs and then the surprise strike via the air, the team’s only completion.
The Jags rushed for 183 yards Thursday with a bevy of backs pounding into the LBJ line; it’s more of a power look this season with less trickery and misdirection out of the Slot-T, and eight different characters in orange carried the ball in the win.
LBJ (0-3) had some success throwing the ball (155 yards) but gained just 77 rushing yards on 32 trips. The Jags held them out after two LBJ forays into the Red Zone in the second half, and got another Gonzalez field goal to post a 12-0 result.
That defense has some depth and also some underclassmen starting to come on. Sophomore end Devin Salinas came up with a sack and junior Juan Contreras, a converted linebacker now at end, created matchup problems with his speed from the edge. He was in on two sacks while junior LB Brandon Reyna intercepted a pass in the second half that had been tipped at the line by junior Canelo Gomez.
On the other side of the ball, juniors Orly Espinoza and P.J. Soto ran hard Thursday, complementing the efforts from explosive classmate Andrew Gomez and shifty senior Jose Medellin. There are no stars in that stratosphere but behind an improving line, each of the committee members is contributing.
There are items to address in the coming weeks, as the Jags have scored just 19 points in three outings. A number of holding penalties cost the offense some momentum against the Wolves; one in particular wiped out a long gainer through the air to Fernandez – who punted exceptionally well Thursday by the way.
But right now the Jags are feeling strong.
“We’re getting better every week, this time we were better than we were against Moody,” Pena said. “I think we are right there, about to really show what we can do. As long as we keep getting better week by week, we’ll be satisfied.”