Stop me if you’ve heard this one before … “Enriquez stars for the Vela football team.”
And now for the rub: in the SaberCats’ wild and entertaining 56-35 home victory Thursday against Edcouch-Elsa, it was Enriquez, for sure, who led the way. Yes, Daniel Enriquez!
For two seasons the rangy defensive back has bided his time, waiting in the wings as older brother Nick obliterated opposing offenses with his explosive tackling ability. You know Nick: BMOC, All-State, one of the best the city has had in many campaigns. Well, against a raging la Maquina, with the Sabes needing an extra something from somewhere, the answer was an Enriquez, once again.
Contributing an interception, a blocked field goal, a fumble recovery, nine tackles, a punt return for a score plus another runback that almost became six, Daniel was the man of the hour. He provided the energy and swagger the group needed to overcome a traditional power, one which led no fewer than four times before finally going under in the wake of a Blue and Black onslaught that produced 28 fourth-quarter points.
Having paid his dues, worked hard to get stronger and faster, the Other Enriquez was ready for his moment in the sun. And when it came, he simply killed it.
“This was just my plan all along,” Enriquez began in the postgame din, a large crowd still buzzing over the breakneck pace of the Vela home opener. “First off, I am so glad to be able to get to play alongside Nick at safety, it is a very cool experience. I knew that this year was going to my year. I had to come out here and show what I had, and tonight I got the chance to do it.”
Every time the SaberCats seemed to be putting the game in hand Thursday (bigger crowd than usual for a weekday night), Edcouch had an answer, playing nose to nose with them and using a rugged run game and brutal hitting on D to lead in each quarter. But in the end, there was too much talent on the home side, with No. 36 front and center.
After a sharp 93-yard scoring drive to start the night – another sudden star, strapping sophomore Justin Cantu, caught four passes for 56 yards to key the march – the Sabes fell behind 8-7. But Enriquez raced 40 yards with a punt to set up a 1-yard smash from Aaron Alvarez (scored three times, did the defensive kid) at 4:53 of the second quarter. When the Yellowjackets scratched to tie it, Daniel Enriquez rushed in to smother the extra point attempt.
Down 22-14 at the half thanks to a pick-six suffered near the end of the second quarter, Vela came back to get to within one early in the third, buoyed by another electric Enriquez return. He took the bouncing kick near midfield right-side, cut back to the left, and steamed all the way to the house at 9:52.
Vela worked without two-thirds of its running back committee, with Sam Valenzuela out of town and Harvey Solis on the side, having been knocked out by a first-period shoulder injury. This thrust sophomore Kevin McKinney into the limelight, and he responded with a solid 72-yard effort on 19 trips. But the Sabes had trouble keeping care of the ball, losing two fumbles. One came in the third as after Enriquez’ TD Vela coughed up the ensuing kickoff, leading to a 28-21 Edcouch lead.
Then, senior QB Nate Garcia (12 of 24, 195 yards) ran for a 36-yard TD, only to later see Vela fumble a punt, whereupon the ‘Jackets came down to make it 35-28 heading into the fourth.
History has shown that it’s not a great idea to get into a scoring contest with Vela, and the ‘Jackets were to find this out the hard way over the last 12 minutes. After Nate Garcia found Ozzie Garcia with a 37-yard TD ball to knot it at 35, E-E lost the kickoff, and guess who came up with the recovery? Correct.
From the 16, Vela scratched in three snaps, McKinney banging in from the 1. The defense provided tackles for loss from Ian Sarmiento and Tim Ellington, Enriquez cruised back to the enemy 19 with yet another scintillating runback, and soon it was a 14-point Vela advantage after Alvarez barreled in from close range. McKinney, a very promising prospect, made a terrific cut block on the edge to keep that drive alive, allowing Brandon Guzman to make a first down at the 9 on a third-and-five jet sweep.
Vela notched another late score to cap a night on which it displayed admirable offensive balance (188 rushing, 195 passing) and held the foe to 279 total yards, forcing four turnovers in the process.
The New Other Enriquez, Nick, was his usually fine self, collecting a dozen stops, with LB Ian Ochoa (nine) and the junior pair of LB Luis Gutierrez (eight plus a pick) and Bryan Farias (six stops, an INT) also having excellent ball games.
Midway through the affair, Nick was on the sidelines during a break. After another of his brother’s highlight moments, he shrugged and said, “Dude is making a name for himself.”
Well said, for sure. Vela ran to 2-0 with the result and now looks forward to a Friday clash down in Brownsville against Vets. Now loaded with double-barrelled Enriquez power, the SaberCats have to like their chances against Gustavo Vazquez and the Chargers.