It’s only one game, and certainly the Jags will be ready for this week’s challenge against city rival Vela. But Thursday’s 44-0 home loss to Weslaco was a slap in the face, especially after a 3-1 start had Econ feeling pretty salty.
Nothing went right in the District 31-6A opener, from a botched field goal try and two disastrous punt attempts (one blocked) to a meager 138-yard offensive output and three Weslaco scoring passes against a struggling secondary.
And yet, the Jags (0-1, 3-2) had a chance to stay in the ring late in the second period, down 13-0. The defense, so terrific in the first four weeks of the season, had been scrapping to keep afloat as the offense had accomplished just one first down. But the Panthers (1-0, 5-0) converted two fourth-down tries, the second on a 23-yard TD pass with 3:01 left. The Orange then cranked out four first downs in the waning ticks, only to see a last-second field goal effort not get off the ground.
Take away the last Weslaco score, and get a three at the close, and it’s 13-3. Instead, 20-0 at the break, and when after the break the Panthers had two easy two-play drives for sixes to take a 34-0 advantage, this one was in the books. Though QB Albert Guerra rallied the Jags to a fine drive after that, throwing with force and running with energy, the quest to get on the board died at the Weslaco 9 at 3:36.
It was just that sort of night, as former Vela coach Michael Salinas brought a team that despite some injury issues proved to be athletic and opportunistic. The Panthers closed the scoring with a 64-yard quarterback keeper and a late field goal, and for the game collected 338 total yards, limiting the Jags to 84 rushing yards on 46 carries (less than 2 yards per run) and a 7-for-20 passing performance. There were no fewer than five drops by the Jag receivers.
Even when a happy thing appeared to happen, such as Rolando Alviso’s 95-yard return to the end zone after a messed up Weslaco extra point, it didn’t officially happen. The play was called back by penalty.
For a team that had allowed just the single score in four outings, to get scorched for 44, at home to boot, was a real downer. However, there were some bright spots on D. Abel Moreno, Alviso, and Marco Plata each topped the 10-tackle mark while Juan Contreras continued to be a presence from the edge, getting another sack, his third in three games. Lineman Chris Salinas was also an active player Thursday, with six first-half stops.
But in the end, field position – Weslaco started three drives inside Jag territory – and inability to execute special teams or run the ball cost a ton.
Now the club must regroup to gird for a supreme test Friday against the SaberCats, after the latter lambasted North last week. If it can grind out some more chain-moving plays - Guerra was the leading rusher against Weslaco with just 38 yards – and perhaps open up the aerial game earlier and with more consistency, it will allow the defensive unit some breathing space.
And then there is the mental/emotional factor: one imagines that the Jags will quickly erase this memory, focusing instead on the positives shown in the opening stretch of the season. Coach Gabe Pena and his staff are masters at that sort of psychology, meaning that fans can expect the Jags to come out with fire in their eye, determined to show that the promising beginning to the 2018 campaign will shine through, past the distressing hiccup that was Thursday night.
NOTES: Several Bobcats were on hand to witness the Econ-Weslaco tilt, as EHS was on the bye week before this week’s challenge at home against Weslaco East. The ’Cats are frantically re-tooling the offense with quarterback Matt Cruz sidelined for at least three more weeks after a knee injury suffered against Mercedes. Backup Erik Cano, also a prominent running option, should be recovered from an ankle tweak suffered in the same game.
The Review has continued to suggest that Hearlin Benavides has Honduran roots, but no more: he has Nicaraguan lineage but was born on the States. Thus, any comparison with legendary Honduran Steve Van Buren, who came out of LSU to become the first player in NFL history to record multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, in the 1940s, is moot.