The unlettered will see the final score and the yardage totals for Vela against Brownsville Hanna, and imagine that the SaberCats – in the battle between No. 1 and No. 2 – were able to put a whipping on the second-ranked Eagles.
And it may be true, that the SaberCats secured a 35-20 home win Friday and collected 433 yards of offense to become 2-0 on the young season. But the jaundiced eye will discern that the night was anything but easy for the Blue and Black, and understand that Vela, though ranked first in the Valley, is like all squads a work in progress for 2018.
There were times against Hanna when it seemed dicey, and it took a couple of huge mistakes from the visiting Eagles to put the sellout home side at ease. After Hanna (1-1) had closed to 14-12 with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns, it fumbled a punt that Jonathan Navarro recovered at the 1. Cristian Flores (153 yards, three TDs) barreled in after that for a 21-12 advantage at 2:37.
Hanna, which had gained just three first downs in the first half because the Vela D was tremendous, kept rolling and moved to the foe’s 25 where another fumble, caused on a pass completion, stopped the drive. Corner Jesse Aguilar punched the ball out and Richard Campos (all over the field Friday) scooped it up. After a wild return scramble, Hanna had been flagged for two penalties and Vela took over 30 yards richer, at the 21 of the Eagles.
This was the Key Juncture of the game, a gigantic swing of momentum and field position. When Daniel Enriquez caromed off multiple tacklers into the end zone from the 13 at 10:51 of the fourth, it was 28-12. Game could have been tied but the Sabes, both lucky and skillful it says here, were in good shape.
It was Enriquez who had tossed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Azael Garcia off the jet sweep, with zeroes on the clock in the second quarter; that, a 55-yard early run from Flores for a 7-0 lead, and the defensive performance, and it was 14-0 at the half.
Return to the second half: Sabes up 16. As Hanna, seeking revenge for last season’s narrow bi-district loss to the same team on the same field, had come back once, it came back again now. Driving downfield with alacrity, the Eagles narrowed the gap to 8 at 28-20 with a score at 8:40 of the fourth.
Though they had made myriad mistakes, including a 46-yard Flores TD run erased by flag in the first, five motion calls against receivers (!), and a fake punt on 4th and 15 that failed, the Sabes absorbed this test of mettle and came back with their own six. Flores produced his third legal score of the night and it was over.
Not before some sketchy moments against a Hanna team with some real athletes. The Eagles picked up 156 rushing yards and tossed for 203 more, as the Vela secondary had its issues intermittently. Vela countered with 183 yards rushing and a 250-yard passing night. Soph A.J. Sotelo saw the lion’s share of duties behind center and went 10 of 17 for 174 yards, while Justin Cantu (four catches), and Garcia (3 for 93) were productive.
The defense wore down as the game wore on, but Sergio Carrizales (hustled down to recover a fumbled punt), Luis Gutierrez (nine tackles) and Campos (six tackles, a sack, the fumble) all chipped in with sharp nights. LB Matthew Brulloths, filling in for injured Ian Ochoa, was active in the first half, as were DL Brandon Beebe inside and Eddie Salinas at end. Late in the game, Mito Perez snared his third INT of the year as Hanna died on the vine.
So the unbeaten SaberCats, in the state’s top 40 to begin the campaign, advance to next week’s road test at McAllen Memorial, against a Mustang team that was surprised by Hanna in Week One but rebounded Friday to subdue rival Sharyland, 27-21. Big plays and Hanna mistakes allowed Vela to go 2-0, but there were holes in the fence that will certainly be addressed in the coming days. Goes to show that even when you’re No. 1, there is work, work, yet to be done, especially if a team wants to entertain hopes of a deep playoff run.
NOTES: By the way, Weslaco launched to 2-0 last week with a smash 58-7 win over suddenly hapless Edcouch-Elsa, while city mate East lost for a second time, against Laredo Alexander after an opening defeat versus Manor out of Central Texas.
Econ, after a 7-0 win in the opener, dropped one by the same to score up in Corpus against Moody. EHS stomped Rivera, 44-12 Saturday as Hearlin Benavides picked up 142 rushing yards with three scores, and the team collected 484 total yards while limiting the Raiders to 148. The Jags will be at home against Laredo LBJ (0-2 after losses to SA Jay and CC Ray) while the 2-0 Bobcats once again take to the buses, headed for La Joya to take on Juarez-Lincoln, which is 0-2 after losses to Rio Hondo and Pioneer.