It was a collision that was well-played for most of the evening but deteriorated into a fiasco in the final 10 minutes. EHS clipped Vela, 2-1, Tuesday at Richard R. Flores Stadium, rising in the 31-6A standings, staving off the foe in a last segment of a match the Bobcats contested with just eight players on the pitch. A series of red cards after a near brawl precipitated the bizarre final minutes and the Bobcats hung on for dear life, getting some massive clearances against a full-strength Vela side smelling blood in the water.

EHS climbed to 4-1 in district heading into Friday’s action and had also withstood a strong early start from the SaberCats, whose coach, Rodolfo Pichardo, told his charges in warmups that they were a way better team than the records might indicate. This was borne out in the early going as the Sabes (1-4, three points) took the fight to their rival, narrowly missing chances and actually having a goal chalked off due to offside.

EHS, which has now won all its league matches by a single goal, including three in penalties, rebounded to assume control, getting on the board at 23:32 of the first half after a Melvin Vidal free-kick from the midline bounced free; Pablo Picazo, so creative in space, located the free ball and jammed it in for 1-nil lead.

The Sabes struggled with composure but eventually found it, and Emiliano Luna got close to scratching, being denied by a sliding Vidal with 10 minutes to go in the half. Vidal again came up large with defense as the interval neared and Picazo again was in the middle of the action, his shot on goal producing a rebound effort from Cesar Martinez to ensure a 2-0 lead at the half.

Vela did not play poorly Tuesday by any means, with Luna lurking deep and Isaiah Luebanos fighting well on the wing. The Sabes ran to a number of promising tries in the second half with Luna popping the net at 12:27 to draw one back. Late in the night, the red card explosion gave the Blue and Black a shot, down 2-1. When star defender Emmanuel Duron was sent off, the ‘Cats depended on Vidal as Vela pressed the advantage, getting six shots on goal in the final 10 minutes. Luna had the best chance, a long boomer that caromed off the top of the bar after a keeper punch (no corner given, by the way) and in time, EHS held on for the win. It put the ‘Cats a point shy of first, where Donna North and Econ sat on 12, the Jags after a penalty kicks win over North Tuesday, leaving the Coogs fourth on nine points.

NOTES: Vela had one tucked away at East Friday until a defensive lapse led to a late Wildcat equalizer, making it 2-2. The Sabes misfired in penalty kicks to take just a point from another promising if inconsistent effort. North is now at 12, tied with Econ and a notch ahead of EHS, which lost 3-0 to Donna North (15 points, first).

HOOPS: BOYS PLAYOFF SET

Three of four city teams will be in action as the basketball playoffs get going this week. District champ Vela (20-16) will take on San Benito, Monday at home, the same night that fourth seed North welcomes 32-6A champ Los Fresnos to town. The next night it’s EHS at home versus the Harlingen Cardinals, after the Bobcats finished third in their league, ahead of North.

The Cougars (16-17) are back in the dance after a year’s absence and will seek their first postseason victory since 2016 when they defeated Harlingen South before losing in area to McAllen Memorial. Los Fresnos beat EHS in bi-district last year before dropping out against Laredo Nixon and has one of the Valley’s best squads this season. The 30-3 Falcons, who pounded North in December by 26, scored wins over Weslaco, Vela, Rowe twice, Pace, and Laredo Nixon. They split with Sharyland Pioneer and lost to upstate teams SA Cole and Antonian.

The Bobcats (19-15) are in against a Cardinal team that is 22-12; like North, the ‘Cats played their first-round opponent earlier in the slate, and it was close, Harlingen winning by six back on Nov. 21. Harlingen clipped Vela twice this season in non-district and also bested Pace and McHigh; among the losses were ones to Rowe, Weslaco, McHigh, and Palmview, and the Cards’ two defeats at the hands of 32-6A king Los Fresnos were each by 14 points. The ‘Cats are 1-6 in their last seven playoff tries, the lone success coming three years back against Weslaco. From 2008 to 2012 they captured a whopping 11 postseason wins, including two Sweet 16 trips.

San Benito was a distant fourth in that Lower Valley league this season and limps into the playoffs at 12-21 against the 20-16 SaberCats. The closest thing to a quality win for the Greyhounds came back on Dec. 10 against Mission Vets. This is by far the biggest mismatch of the bi-district fight featuring 31-6A against 32-6A. Weslaco, second in 31, takes on Harlingen South in the final tilt for round one.