He’s never been the type to obsess too much about wins and losses, really. Of course, he wants to win, so he and his staff pull out all the stops to make that happen as often as possible, week after week.
But for Gabe Pena, dean of the city’s football coaches, it’s always been as much about the lessons as it has been about successes or failures. That’s why Friday night was a pretty solid teaching moment for the Jaguars.
The homecoming night started out with a thud as Econ fell behind 27-7 by the half, generating an anemic 65 total yards, 42 of that coming on a single play. In this veritable elimination game – more on that later – the Bobcats were having their way with a city rival.
When the Jags fumbled on the first play of the third quarter, EHS went up 34-7 in one snap on a run from the junior whirling dervish Shandon Woodard, who surpassed the 200-yard mark for the fourth time in seven outings. It became 41-7 but then the Jags woke up, and over the next 15 minutes they went nuts, making their coaches, their fans, and the homecoming court all pretty happy campers.
The final was 41-28, but Econ roared to 285 yards on the second half, pulling off a double-pass for 49 yards, getting a 75-yard romp by one of its sophomore prospects, and basically turning the whole tenor of the game around. Very stirring, honestly as the Jags rose from the dead like Lazarus in the Gospel of John.
The Bobcats (1-2, 3-4) needed this one to stop a three-game slide, while the Jags (1-3, 2-6) were trying to keep pace with North and Vela by reaching the 2-win mark in 31-6A. That didn’t happen, but a whole lot else did.
“Very proud of the boys, they had a slow start but after the half they came out fighting,” Pena said. “They never gave up, and I think we proved something in the second half.”
Pena noted that at the break, with things going nowhere, the coaches got busy.
“We were really motivating them during the halftime,” he explained. “And they responded, they showed a lot of spirit and they didn’t pack it in. This sort of thing gives us hope and it shows that we are going to work hard and never give in.”
Part of the late resurgence should be credited to the backfield duo of Didier Martinez and Fermin Hernandez, both 10th-graders. Hernandez rambled for 184 yards Friday, refusing to go down, twisting and turning, finding nothing and making something. He and Martinez are the future for a program that has been searching for running backs the past few years.
“They really want the ball, and they are getting better all the time,” said Pena of his youngsters. “You have to live and die with sophomores, they are inexperienced and will make some mistakes, but all in all, we are excited about what those boys can contribute.”
And there are other Jags who will be back in 2020, though by no means is the club writing off its chances of sneaking in this season. Junior quarterback Nathan Garcia threw for 100 yards against the ‘Cats; he’s got a quick release, a strong arm, and decent wheels. Freshman J.C. Balderas caught two passes and has some solid size.
“I think we hurt ourselves tonight with a slow start, and we didn’t take the chances we had to build any momentum,” Pena said. “This game is all about confidence, and because we had some injury problems early this year, we’ve had trouble getting going. Maybe tonight is just what we needed, to show that we can play with confidence in the remaining games. I am pretty proud of this team tonight, either way.”
For the Bobcats, Friday was a masterful performance for three periods, despite a rash of penalties (13 for 129 yards, six holding calls, two illegal blocks) on a night when the refs were in rare form. Sarcasm, there.
Quarterback Rolando Abrego, dinged up a bit against North last week, returned to form with 121 yards passing and scores to junior Josh Gonzalez and Woodard. Adrian Garza had a nice game with three catches for 56 yards and a speedy 41-yard TD run in the third quarter to make it 41-7.
From there though, the ‘Cats sputtered and the Jags came on.
It took a mighty effort from defensive tackle Emmanuel Duron (10 tackles and a fumble recovery) and the rest of the D to stem the onrushing Orange tide.
All the while, Woodard continued to thrash and crash his way through tackles, seeming to get stronger as the game wore on. He carried 35 times for 215 yards and would have been at about 250 had it not been for penalty flags. He broke the 1,000-yard barrier Friday and has to be in the running for Offensive MVP in the district.
As for that district, these two teams might have a hard time of achieving their goal of making the playoffs. EHS has three games left, against Weslaco, Vela, and Donna North. Econ, hamstrung by schedule now, has just two chances left to reach the 3-win plateau, with dates at Weslaco East Friday and then the Oct. 31 showdown with North. The Cougars have two victories and two games to go, against Weslaco and the Jags.