SABES TOO GOOD, 24-13 WIN GOES THEIR WAY

Perched on the precipice of doom, they simply failed to give in, or fall. About to go down for the count, they just found a way to keep punching, bloodied but unbowed. On the brink of oblivion, they proved their mettle despite the result.

Truly, though the Bobcats ended up on the short end of the Rivalry Game score – an outcome that was more or less expected by the experts, so-called – they gave Vela a helluva brawl Thursday night. The SaberCats (5-0, 9-0) prevailed, 24-13, and also did a fantastic job under pressure. But the underdog was the star of this game, scratching and clawing its way to respect against a superior ball club.

The only negative aspect of this hard-knocks contest between bitter rivals was the decidedly questionable job done by the officiating crew, which seemed to buckle a bit under the pressure of a big game and ended up calling a whopping total of 23 penalties. Those flags accounted for 207 negative yards and a brutal series of play stoppages that ruined the flow of what had promised to be a memorable evening of football in town.

Nonetheless, there were great moments to be had from the fray, repetition of yellow flags notwithstanding. These would include a pair of Vela touchdown passes from A.J. Sotelo to Daniel Enriquez, a scoring bomb of 37 yards from Matt Cruz to EHS basketball buddy Antoine Woodard, and the dominant performance by the Sabes pass rush – six sacks, two by the imminently notable DL Kobe Gipson.

In between these fine snaps – and the rampage of penalties – the match ended up being what everyone thought it would be, with the Valley’s No 1 club fending off a pesky challenge from the Bobcats (2-3, 6-3) with plenty of healthy licks, not a few moments of near-fisticuffs, and warring student sections doing their best to wound the other, and extend the Beef. That’s the way it is when New Cats face Old, and frankly one of the main elements that makes the rivalry such compelling theater.

EHS, which had experienced severe offensive difficulty in district losses to Weslaco East and Weslaco, again found the going tough against another salty league D. The ‘Cats managed just 117 total yards Thursday, with standout runner Hearlin Benavides amassing 67 yards on 24 carries; every time he made a move to get loose, a horde of swarming SaberCats kept him from breaking the biggie.

Gipson, a newcomer to the ranks, was simply unblockable in the early going, notching six tackles in a quarter and a half. Linemate Sergio Carrizales continued to do what he does best, which is take on blockers and clear the path for teammates such as linebackers Ian Ochoa and Luis Gutierrez, who were rugged and active, as always.

The ‘Cats ground out a 10-play, 72-yard TD march right off the bat to lead 7-0, at 4:45 of the first when Cruz launched a sailer to a streaking Woodard. Having spent the lion’s share of 2018 at cornerback, the athletic senior outjumped his defender in the end zone to snare the ball out of the November air for a huge early salvo.

But Vela, being Vela, answered with alacrity, taking just three snaps to achieve a tie as a 41-yard gainer, Sotelo to Enriquez, set the table for a 5-yard Cristian Flores run at 4:02. This was a key juncture of the night, as the Sabes soon enough went 61 yards in six plays to take a 14-7 advantage. Sotelo (13 of 24, 177 yards, two scores and two picks) found Nico Rodriguez on a key third-down snap for a first down, and a 35-yard hookup to Enriquez made it 14-7 at 11:50 of the second quarter.

EHS survived with gutty defense, as safety Mannie Salinas was fully possessed in the half, on his way to a game-high 16 tackles. Escaping special teams disaster several times – Vela came oh, so close to blocking a number of punts – the underdog hung in there. Raymond Quintanilla (10 tackles) hopped on a fumble at his own 39 midway through the second period to stop a Vela drive, and when the Sabes got to the EHS 22 late in the half, they were stymied by a huge sack by Lazaro Patlan.

At the half, anybody’s game.

In the third, Vela threatened again, only to see an interception by Aaron Alfaro stop the surge, and then EHS looked ready for the knot. The ‘Cats motored to the Sabe 35 but then the flags started flying; a hold hurt and then Matthew Brulloths made the Play of the Night by jumping a poorly thrown screen and riding all the way back down to the Bobcat 22 with the turnover. Still, the Bobcats had their pride, and LB Athen Villanueva turned in a pair of stops to force a Tate Scott field goal, pushing the Blue and Black to a 10-point advantage.

As the penalties mounted with annoying speed, Vela took off on a drive that title teams make, gliding 12 plays to the 24-7 lead, with Sotelo finding Enriquez crossing left to right for a 19-yard six-pointer at 5:44.

The Bobcats had nothing left on offense but Woodard, at corner, provided a spark with a late interception that he returned to the 1. Benavides crashed in to narrow the gap, but it was too late for miracles.

Vela now gets a chance to salt away the league title for the second year in a row, after Weslaco came from behind with a last-second victory over East Friday, Michael Salinas’ crew handing his old club a nifty trinket indeed. To get in, EHS must win against league doormat Donna North this week because Edinburg North nipped Econ Friday to tie the Bobcats in the standings at 2-3.