Though this has been a confounding season for them from time to time, the SaberCats have dealt with being back among mortal ranks – and they imagine the visit will be temporary – and are now starting to resemble the killer squads of the recent and glorious past.
Losses to Memorial and Weslaco earlier in the season helped dent the program armor but those games were nothing but two tough teams slugging it out, one getting the upper hand. It would have been unfair to say, then, that a 6-2 record heading into Friday’s rivalry outing with EHS was too much of a disappointment, in context and perspective, given the inexperience of this year’s outfit, and the injuries it has suffered.
All that aside, Vela came out and unloaded on the Bobcats unmercifully, scoring on its first seven possessions and getting stopped at the 1 on the eighth. It added up to a stunning 56-0 blowout, an anticlimax for fans who had awaited a good old-fashioned brawl at Richard R. Flores Stadium.
With a combined six touchdown passes to set a school record, the Sabes blasted their way to 520 total yards and limited the ‘Cats (1-4, 3-6) to 170 and six first downs. It was even more lopsided, actually, as on three snaps EHS had long passes for 36 and 37 yards and a run for 68 more. This means that besides the three breakers, the Bobcats were able to generate a mere 19 yards. Total domination.
The ‘Cats came out with a wrinkle, throwing three times on its first possession, followed by a punt. From there, the Sabes rode downhill like an avalanche, amassing a 35-0 lead at the break and never looking back. Their first score was accomplished with some hard running by junior Jhonier Marin, who complemented sophomore feature back P.J. Rivera (168 yards for his third 100-plus night of the year) with 71 yards on nine carries. A.J. Sotelo found Kevin Rojas with a 9-yard pass for a 7-0 lead and soon enough, Rivera’s 26-yard run set up an 8-yard Sotelo strike to sophomore Justin Vega on the last play of the first for a 14-0 advantage.
EHS had problems fielding the many kickoffs trickily pooched by Vega, who has settled in as the No. 1 kicker and punter along with averaging almost 28 yards per catch in a terrific breakout campaign. The ‘Cats fumbled away the kick after the second Vela score and in two snaps it was 21-0, after the first of three TD balls to senior Justin Cantu, who hauled in 167 yards of action before leading the charge in the school’s Senior Walk following the ball game.
A 44-yard gainer from Sotelo to Cantu put the team on the doorstep later in the second with Marin barreling in from the 1 at 8:32. It got to 35-0 thanks to a 3-yard run from Rivera, and the Bobcats were absolutely done by intermission.
Those early losses can be chalked up to an unseasoned crew – Vela has just 18 seniors – and injuries on the offensive line. But after a middling start, the team has run the ball with alacrity, compiling 200-yard outputs in four of the last six games.
Defensively, the Sabes were able to stymie league-leading rusher Shandon Woodard with gang-tackling and hustle, and though he had a long run called back by penalty, the EHS junior did finish with 94 yards, most of which came on a second half scamper on which he lost a shoe on the handoff but still managed to hot-foot it 68 yards downfield. Basically, that was the highlight for the Bobcats, that and two bombs to senior Adrian Garza.
All night, the Sabes flew to the football and gave harsh licks upon arrival. Even without standout safety Mito Perez, out with a shoulder knock, the unit performed admirably, junior safety Ivan Mendoza pacing the rush with eight tackles. Sophomore Joshua Garcia came up with seven while classmate corner Matthew Luna had six, same for linebacker Ian Nova. Matthew Trevino and sophomore Nilson Garcia came up with fumbles and the tenor of the night was embodied in the second half when the Sabes sacked the EHS passer. The toughest part of the evening was figuring out how many marauding Blue and Black defenders had buried the QB. For the record, it was Nova, senior Matthew Brulloths, and junior A.J. Russell on the job.
Now Vela has a shot at a tri-title if it can go over to Weslaco and defeat East, which hit a 46-yard field goal at the wire Friday to knock off previously unbeaten Weslaco in the annual Tinaco Bowl. All three clubs stand at 4-1 in District 31-6A with the final night ahead. The Panthers will take on North in Edinburg Thursday with the Sabes and Wildcats squaring off at Bobby Lackey Stadium the next night.
Coach John Campbell noted that after back-to-back 12-1 seasons, the law of averages was bound to catch up with Vela to a degree.
“The past two seasons we have been lucky, really, because we didn’t have to deal with any major injuries, we had a lot of talent and no real injuries,” he said, in the wake of losses of OL guys Tyler Bailey and Ronnie Garza for much of the 2019 slate. “The injury bug comes and it goes, and this season we have had our share of it, on both sides of the ball.”
The coach commented that even with the ups and downs, his team has been starting to hit on all cylinders.
“I think we might be playing as well we have all season,” he said, and a 61-3 win over Donna North followed by the shellacking of EHS bear that out. “Tonight we expected a dogfight because Edinburg is tough, and it was a rivalry game. We felt good about our game plans coming in, but we still had to execute. I think we were able to do that well. Right now, our sophomores who started the season without varsity experience have grown up. Those sophomores are basically juniors now, with almost a full season under their belt.”
NOTES: The Sabes are now 5-1 against EHS, including five victories in a row by a combined score of 234 to 42. The Bobcats, who lost for the fifth time in six games, saw their three-year streak of playoff trips come to an end. Vela sophomore Chase Campbell was great in his QB relief stint Friday, pitching a pair of touchdown passes for the second straight week.