As lid-lifters go, it was a perfect specimen, with much to like, a few things to work on, some surprises, and thrilling moments to relish.
When Vela started the 2018 season Thursday at home against Laredo United, it didn’t take long to get the party started, as sophomore safety Jaime Perez Jr. dived for an interception on the initial snap of the game. The SaberCats’ first offensive try of the new campaign was a winner, a 31-yard TD run by senior Cristian Flores – the first of three for Flo on the night – for a lead that never faded.
Those first glimpses of a 48-20 rout tell quite a lot about what lies ahead for the Sabes, 12-1 last year. Perez went on to grab a second pick in the half and later returned a kickoff for a score, though it was called back by penalty, so one point of emphasis coming in, the secondary, appears to be on track.
Further, Flores’ performance – 97 yards and three scores – shows that the running game, key in the early going as the club’s new QB group gets up to speed, is as good as everyone thought it would be.
Coach John Campbell praised his run game and line blocking, after the Sabes clobbered a United team that for a decade was a regular in the deeper rounds of the playoffs before falling off to .500 last year. He noted the timing of the passing game was still a work in progress, which is normal for September.
“We did some things tonight that were extremely good,” said Campbell, whose runners picked up a healthy 236 yards on the ground (6.5 per carry). “And then there were some areas where we struggled, made mistakes. We’ve got a bunch of things to look at now before we get ready for the next game.”
Among the notables from the opener: solid quarterback play for the most part. Sophomore A.J. Sotelo completed 8 of 14 balls and executed a sweet 30-yard scamper in playing the entire first half. Senior Elijah Trujillo went the second half and tossed a couple of scores to junior Justin Cantu. The first came on a crossing route left to right that saw Cantu streak 67 yards to the house after an on-target bullet from the strong-armed passer. That gave the Sabes a 41-13 lead. The other came later in the third period on a timing route good for a 13-yard TD. Cantu seemed to sense the ball coming at him out of the pattern break, snaring it one-handed without looking (!) and launching into the end zone.
There were so many highlights in this one, a couple from Old Faithful, Daniel Enriquez. First he rambled 55 yards up the middle out of the Wildcat formation, untouched for a 27-0 lead at 9:57 of the second period; this after three crisp Flores scores pretty much salted away the result and made the second-teamers super amped.
United carved out chunks of yardage, especially through the air, ending with 438 total yards, about half of that when the Vela starters were chilling. The Longhorns scored late in the second to make it 27-6, but Enriquez then did what Enriquez does better than anyone since EHS legend Sal Martinez. Taking the ensuing kickoff, the amazing No. 5 (minus 31 from 2017) slalomed 90 yards to paydirt with just 0:06 to go in a breakneck half. Daniel … Daniel!
Defensive gems came from Wildman Sergio Carrizales, a slimmed-down and dirty-fast demon these days. He made a sack and tackle-for-loss on consecutive plays in the first half, and complemented the excellent work from cerebral tackle king Ian Ochoa, who made 10 stops Thursday. Fellow ‘backer Luis Gutierrez blocked a punt (one of three blocked kicks the team had) and made eight tackles before exiting with an ankle sprain.
Negatives from the night included a pair of touchdowns nullified by penalty (Perez’ runback, Aaron Alvarez had a 67-yard burst to the zone erased as well). The short passing game is TBA after a frustrating night of near-misses, but one imagines that thorough scouting by United had something to do with that.
Now the Sabes get ready for a rematch with Brownsville Hanna, Friday at home. The Eagles, who died on the vine last season in bi-district after Austin Garza’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World in the closing seconds, shocked the Valley Thursday with a dominant 49-28 victory over McAllen Memorial. With Vela No. 1 and Hanna sure to move up from No. 4 after whipping the Mustangs, the guns are loaded for a killer tilt.