After a week to rest, recuperate and fine-tune the effort, Econ and North return to the gridiron this week, facing dangerous opponents as the District 31-5A season begins in earnest.

Econ (2-1) will take a trip to the Tri-Cities are to meet Pharr North (3-0) Friday, a day after the Cougars (2-1) welcome vaunted Harlingen (3-0) to town for a Thursday night classic at Cats Stadium.

Both city teams enjoyed the bye last week, after the Jags edged Brownsville Lopez and North blasted La Joya in Week 2 action. Now that the games count for real, each will have to come with all cylinders firing.

The Pharr North team Econ squares off with has one of the best quarterbacks in the Valley in senior Noe Garcia, who runs the intricate Slot-T Offense of Coach Bruce Bush to perfection. Garcia has touchdown runs of 66 and 74 yards so far and the Raiders have beaten Donna, San Benito, and Brownsville Rivera in succession.

Coach Oscar Salinas of the Jags worked his team out in the morning last week to avoid the 100-degree heat, and says that though the challenge is strong, he believes in his group.

“That is one good football team over there, North,” he said. “But we feel good about our chances, we just have to play like we’ve been playing. I think we can score some on them, now we have to play some defense.”

The Wrecking Crew Defense has some stars this year, but after allowing just 164 total yards in Zero Week win against Brownsville Porter, the unit gave up 411 to McAllen Memorial in a 33-28 loss at home. In the win over Lopez, the Crew was touched for 340 yards, and in three games, opposing offenses have scored 85 points.

Safety Andrew Fox, who made 19 tackles versus Memorial and 11 more in the Lopez game, sees the future for the defense and he likes it.

“I think we have a lot of potential as a defense, we are just learning a new system and it takes awhile to do that,” said the hard-hitting senior transfer from Miami. “We are going to do a lot better as the weeks go by. The talent is there.”

If Fox’s prediction is to come true, the Jags will need a healthy Victor Salinas in the middle. Like Fox, Salinas collected 19 stops against Memorial, but he has been nagged by a sore knee and was in on just six plays against Lopez. Alvaro Bocanegra has taken up some of the slack in his stead while veteran Luis Huerta has been his usual steady self at linebacker. Now the Crew sets its sights on the tricky North offense.

As for the other O-D matchup, look for the Jags to continue to pound the ball behind an offensive line that is looking good these days. Oscar Salinas put in a plug for his warriors up front, saying they have been very impressive so far.

Three juniors, center Mike Garza, guard Jesse Delgado and tackle Aurelio Garza, have stepped into prominent roles in 2009, along with seniors Pedro Ornelas at tackle and Rogelio Martinez at guard. A fourth 11th-grader, Randy Mariscal, has seen action both on offense and defense, giving the Jags quality and depth they have not had in the interior since the Gene Iglesias days.

The work of that line has enabled Econ to compile 212, 165, and 289 yards on the ground in three contests, with junior Nelson Hampton exploding for a career-high 146 in the 37-35 win over Lopez, with three touchdowns. Backfield mate Isaac “Washington” Vazquez, originally from Washington state, has also performed well.

“He’s got some moves, I guess that’s just Washington-style running,” Fox joked about the unorthodox Vazquez, whose jittery jukes plus stops and starts have made defenses miss to the tune of 203 yards in three games, 6.3 per carry.

Throw in the crunching blocks of bruising fullback Rey Trevino (also a dependable receiver out of the backfield), and Econ is ready to move the ball against the Raiders.

Meanwhile, scoring has not been a problem for a North team that has put 100 points on the board in two wins. The downer came against Sharyland when the Coogs’ balanced attack managed only 242 yards and 10 points in a Week 1 loss.

Coming off a 50-20 stomping of La Joya, North faces the task of slowing down the juggernaut that is Harlingen.

The Cards have one of the top defenses in the region, and an offense that is almost as tough. New quarterback Mack Sanchez is the real deal, teaming with top targets Anthony Reyna and Luke Lucio, each of whom caught TD balls in the team’s blowout victory against San Benito in the 80th Battle of the Arroyo two weeks back.

Mingo Rincon, last year’s Valley MVP on defense, has been nasty as ever in three wins, and with a week to prepare, Harlingen will certainly be primed to try and stop high-flying passer Matt Munoz and the bevy of quality Coog ends. Coach Manny Gomez’ front four is particularly strong this fall.

So as the 31-5A season begins, these two games are as big as they come, with momentum on the line between four schools that want to start the playoff hunt off with a huge win. Harlingen and Pharr North have been picked 1-2 in the loop by many Valley observers; now they have to contend with Edinburg challengers intent on proving the experts wrong.