There was a tendency around town, after the Cougars had stumbled to a 0-5 mark through the first half of the football season, to write them off as a lost cause. But Damian Gonzalez never lost faith in the project and neither did his kids; Friday night North showed it means business aplenty for 2019 with a superb 35-28 victory over arch-rival EHS, marching 80 yards to score the winning touchdown with just 34 seconds left in a wild encounter.

“We turned it on when we needed to,” said a jubilant Gonzalez after the Cougars had risen to 2-1 in District 31-6A – tied with Vela – a notch behind the unbeaten Weslacos. “We came out at the start of the second half strong and then we finished it with a great drive. I could not be prouder of these guys, they’ve worked hard all year, and the coaches have worked to change the culture back to where it once was.”

Back in the day, when North was a Valley power, the Coogs were a never-say-die group, and the latest edition just may end up being a chip off the old block. They trailed 14-7 at one point to the Bobcats (0-2, 2-4), roared to a 28-14 lead by the third, and then rallied from a 28-all tie to clinch their second win a row, following last week’s demolition of Donna North.

The comeback drive was paced by junior Robert Gonzalez at quarterback. Midway home, he relieved starter Mikey Rodriguez after the lefty suffered a concussion, and eventually did the job he had to do, guiding the team downfield to win it on Jacob Peralez’ short TD blast at the wire.

“I have been waiting for my chance, and when it came I had to go in and do my best,” said Gonzalez, who started the first ball game in August and then was largely relegated to the No. 2 role. “I wasn’t nervous, really, because I have been playing this game since I was small and my parents always taught me to want to succeed.”

Damian Gonzalez noted that on the JV last year, Robert Gonzalez was a playmaker with moxie, and Friday, the QB got his chance. He had to come through with Rodriguez (two TD passes to Sergio Quintanilla and 40-yard scoring run himself) on the shelf.

It also took a determined effort from the North D to save the season. The Bobcats, hobbled with injuries, including one to Coach J.J. Leija, came off a loss at Weslaco East but put 401 yards on the scoresheet Friday, including a monster performance from Shandon Woodard, who crashed for 233 yards and three TDs. He raced 71 yards to make it 28-21 in the third and 7 more to tie the game with 0:11 left in the third.

It was on a long Bobcat drive in the final march that the North defense got the stop of the night. Starting from the EHS 15, junior backup Kaleb Guajardo, who had replaced injured started Rolando Abrego in the second quarter, led a lengthy cruise that reached the Coog 23. Here, Cougar defender Malachi Ortega was the man of the hour, chasing down Guajardo on a fourth-down scramble to turn the ball over.

North went to work with Peralez (105 yards, his second 100-yard outing in a row) pounding against Emmaniel Duron (12 tackles) and the EHS D, which is still without injured standout DB Nathan Ochoa. Gonzalez hit some short passes, Peralez smacked away, and finally, Gonzalez lofted a 31-yard gainer to Brendon Borrego, down to the EHS 1. Peralez did the deed on the next snap and on the last EHS possession, Ortega came up with two rushes of the passer to end the night on a high for the Coogs.

SEAT BELTS FASTENED

When it all began, the Coogs fumbled a punt in their own territory but rebounded to hold the Bobcats to no points. Then they scored in six plays on Rodriguez’ QB draw that went to the downs. EHS was offside on defense to extend the drive and on four of the five Coog TD marches Friday, EHS helped out with a costly defensive penalty.

The ‘Cats tied it up in the first with a run from Woodard, who now has 870 yards and is on track to become the fourth straight runner in Red and Blue to top 1,000: Hearlin Benavidez did it back to back in 2017 and 2018, after Nathan Marez had broken the barrier in 2016.

EHS took the lead at 14-7 with a 14-play, 80-yard excursion in the second, but North came back to tie it again with an 8-yard ball from Rodriguez to Quintanilla, the basketball star who can also play this game, big time.

A very entertaining half got even better after EHS fumbled a kickoff and North quickly converted, Rodriguez firing a 6-yard slant to Quintanilla at 6:21 of the second.

That’s the way it stood at the break, 21-14 North but as Gonzalez noted, his team was ready to rumble, and went up 28-14 with a short Peralez run, after the same hard-working senior had blasted for a first down on a fourth-and-3 run in the Red Zone.

Just when it looked bleak for EHS, Woodard got loose for a crowd-stirring 71-yard romp, and when the ‘Cats got a fumble recovery well inside North land, it took four plays for yet another tie, 28-all in the dying embers of the third.

That set the stage for North’s later defensive stand and subsequent game-winning drive, and honestly, there were heroes abounding on both sides of an excellent Rivalry Gig.

Duron consistently hammered his kickoffs out of the end zone or close, with North’s Gonzalez saying that midway through the third – when el Hombre del Pueblo was making a slew of tackles, he (Gonzalez) was worried that Duron was going to beat his team all by himself.

But luckily, North had its own D stars Friday, with end Raul Gonzalez breaking through for three sacks, linebacker J.J. Rodriguez lunch-pailing his way to 10 tackles, and Ortega coming through with his late gems.

Now it gets interesting as EHS has to find a way to rebound with games left against Econ (this week), Vela, Weslaco, and Donna North. The Cougars, meanwhile, still have to play the Weslaco schools, which means that the Halloween showdown against the Jags – 24-7 winners over Donna North Friday – will be gi-freakin’-enormous!