As the night wore on, the Bobcats almost didn’t want the ball back. But their defense kept stopping North, and the beleaguered attack trotted out again and again to move the ball. With Hearlin Benavides out with a stinger, Erick Cano on the sidelines with an iced-down knee, and QB Matt Cruz having begun the night styling in jeans and boots, EHS was running out of skill guys, inexorably.
Luckily, the underrated offensive line had been blowing holes in the Cougar D from the opening kick, so with backup Brian Tejada (165 yards on 15 carries) and defensive fill-ins Robert Alfaro (103 on 17) and Nathan Ochoa (22 yards on four tries) carrying the load in the second half, the Red and Blue tucked away a 31-14 Friday victory to even its District 31-6A mark at 1-1.
All told, the ‘Cats rambled for 484 yards on the ground with Benavides amassing 157 before leaving the action. Slot receiver Adrian Garza went the distance behind center and contributed 31 more rushing steps as EHS dominated the line of scrimmage and defensively held North (1-2, 1-6) to 48 rushing yards on 21 carries. Though senior Max Aguilar pitched for 161 passing yards and two TDs in a valiant effort, the Coogs fell down 21-0 in the first period and never got back to within less than 10.
Benavides got the evening cranking with an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the night, but a penalty late in the run nullified the six; the same fellow soon crashed in from the 9 at 10:21 gaining the early advantage for an EHS team coming off a loss to Weslaco East. The ‘Cats added to the lead at 5:17 with another Benavides run and then Tejada, a well-built powerlifter who hits the opening hard and fast, bolted 52 yards to the end zone with 1:58 left.
The Coogs turned Aguilar loose now, and he responded with success to rangy trackman Roel de Leon (seven grabs, 120 yards). The two hooked up on a 57-yard strike late in the first as de Leon got behind the D and sprinted to glory. EHS came back with a 30-yard field goal from Emmanuel Duron but North was feeling confident now, as Aguilar threw a beautiful aerial into the left corner of the end zone, where Tony Garcia was waiting to complete a 14-yard TD at 3:41.
After that burst of offense good for 38 points in the first half, the teams popped each other consistently after the break, the only scratch being a 1-yard run from Alfaro in the fourth. All credit to the EHS coaches, who scrambled to find kids to run the ball after the loss of their two top backs. Each of the subs is a physical, agile type, and so expect to see more of them in the near future if need be.
In limiting North to not much on the ground, the ‘Cats got balanced work from all hands on deck. Duron had six stops, Lazaro Patlan five to pace the line, while aggressive LB Athen Villanueva led the unit with seven, Alfaro capping his best night as a Bobcat with six tackles when he wasn’t busy as a back exploiting the gaps created by his O-line.
North got the nice night from Aguilar and de Leon, and some real hard-nosed work from its defense. As will be the case when the other team runs the ball a whopping 64 times (just three passes by EHS Friday), the Coog tackle charts were full of ink. Rugged Juan Rodriguez was a warrior along with Jason Duarte, while secondary men Javier Renteria (17 tackles, hit with abandon all night) and Ivan Garza (11 and a fumble recovery) were busy bees.
NOTES: The second half began with a special kickoff return for a touchdown by Jaden Garza, a long-time North stalwart; before the actual kick from EHS, civilian Garza got the crowd pumping with a ceremonial run that had both teams chasing him into the end zone and the Coog student section chanting his name in unison.
North visits Weslaco East this week while the Bobcats get ready for Econ. Vela, which roared from behind to beat Weslaco, 17-7 Friday on the road, is open this week. The SaberCats are now 3-0, 7-0 and have Donna North, EHS, and East to go. They will not leave Richard R. Flores Stadium again before the playoffs, although technically they’ll be the road team versus the ‘Cats Nov. 1.