The leaders of the loop’s stingiest defense heading into 31-6A play each have a theory as to why the Jags have allowed just one touchdown after 16 quarters of action in 2018.
Senior Marco Plata, who made 10 tackles in a 17-0 home whitewashing of Roma Thursday, says that the Wrecking Crew is in better shape than it was a year ago, literally and figuratively.
“Last year we would sort of get tired and that led to us fading in the second half,” said Plata, who helped hold the visiting Gladiators to a measly five first downs and 92 total yards. “We‘ve been doing more conditioning in drills and practice, so that helps us stay strong.”
Fellow ‘backer Rolando Alviso, a hard hitter who made nine stops Thursday, believes that gang tackling has been one of the keys to shutouts over P-SJ-A Southwest, Laredo LBJ and now Roma.
“Hard work in practice, and it’s all about pursuit,” said the solid college prospect who moved from safety to LB this year. “That is one of the best things we do, we get a lot of guys to the ball, we work on everyone getting in on the tackle.”
They are both right about the reasons concerning the Jags’ promising beginning; they’re 3-1 and open up league wars this week against Weslaco. Getting multiple men on the tackle, they shut down Roma, forcing three turnovers and making three sacks. Junior end Juan Contreras continued his fine exploits with seven tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery while junior DL Augustin Villegas started fast with four stops in the first period, and LB Isaac Chapa was terrific with 10 tackles, including a sack.
Though the Jags improved to 3-1, they did not take advantage of two Roma miscues in the first half, for the game converted one of three field goals, and managed a pedestrian 198 offensive yards. They did get cranking in the second half, driving 48 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead after the Gladiators gambled on an onside kick and failed. QB Albert Guerra, who ran effectively in the second half, barged in from the 2 for the lead.
Later in the half, as the defense stymied the Glads on three-and-outs three times running, the Orange rolled to drives of 14 and 10 plays, controlling the clock and getting a three-pointer from Ram Gonzalez with 1:40 to go in the game. Then came the defensive tally 13 seconds later when the long-limbed Plata jumped a screen pass at the 17 and zoomed into the end zone.
The dominance of the Wrecking Crew had come into full focus in the third period, after the offense suffered through four penalties on one drive and faced the ignominious situation of a 4th and 44 from its own 3. Roma soon took over at the Econ 12 and it looked like tie game ahead. However, Chapa made a pair of hits, Alviso knocked down a third-down pass at the line of scrimmage, and Roma then blew a field goal try.
The main offensive force came on the ground, as the Jags churned out 180 yards, though it took 55 carries to get there. Abel “Iron Man” Moreno, who made 10 tackles on D, charged for 63 yards on 14 carries while P.J. Soto added 49 more on 10 trips.
Moving ahead, the Jags know that even though they have shut down a series of non-district opponents – the only loss came 7-0, at Moody in Corpus – the 6A league’s offenses will be tougher to contain, i.e. Vela and EHS, the Weslaco outfits.
Plata knows that some people will point to the Econ strength-of-schedule – admittedly not quite top-shelf – as proof that its defense may not be quite as great as the numbers suggest.
“We’ve done really well so far, and now we are going to have to come out and prove it, next week and every week,” he stated with a determined mien.