In many ways the season finale was a microcosm of the campaign for both sides.
North moved the ball well and had to withstand a defensive letdown late, this time, getting the elusive first win of the season, 41-34 Friday. The team it beat, Econ, came so close to a thrilling comeback win, scoring 20 straight points down the stretch only to fall by seven in what might have been long-time Coach Oscar Salinas’ last roundup for the Jags.
At the completion of this wacky night at Cats Stadium, the Jags (1-6 in District 31-5A, 3-7 overall after six straight defeats) felt as if they had finished the contest the way their coach had asked them to, at halftime. With a career-high 389 yards from senior quarterback Edgar Cuevas on a superb 22-of-27 night, the Orange rallied from a 41-14 deficit with a scoring barrage, getting an onside kick late to score but then seeing North run out the last 3:15.
It was another tantalizing downer, after a 1-point OT loss to P-SJ-A and a 3-point road loss against P-SJ-A Memorial (and some say the officials) earlier in the season.
For North, the night’s work kept the program from the dreaded winless season, as senior Mike Bryan rushed for 127 yards and three scores and outstanding linebacker Robert Rodriguez made a game-high 14 tackles to push his season total to a resounding 153.
In all, a disappointing fall for both city programs ended on a series of somewhat high notes on a chilly evening in November.
“I think our kids came and out and showed they weren’t going to quit,” said a weary Salinas afterward. The rumor is that as his contract is set to expire, changes might be in the works on the East Side. But Salinas, the only coach the program has ever had since its inception in 2000 and now 36-73 lifetime, preferred to laud the efforts of his hustling Jags rather than muse about the future.
“They have been a great group to coach,” he said. “They could have packed it in the last couple of weeks, but they were here, every day, working hard, and I cannot ask for more than that. We did the best we could and at the end, we had a chance to win it.”
For North Coach Roy Garza, the nightmare scenario is over, after the club came out and lost some close ones early before injuries and a barrel of other troubles conspired to make this the worst season in the program’s 20-year history. The Coogs went 1-8 in 2004.
“We were glad to get one, though it was ugly,” said Garza, who had taken the Coogs to the playoffs three years running before bad luck corroded the 2010 effort. “We got a lot of young kids out there getting a lot of reps, so that is something to build on. I just feel for the seniors who worked hard to have all this happen to us.”
THIS IS IT
The Coogs were sharp from the get-go Friday, with Bryan running well and senior Michael Pacheco completing his first eight passes. They went out in front 14-0 after Pacheco’s 23-yard slant TD to Mike Hinojosa (six for 65) and a 2-yard run from Rollie Borrego.
Econ countered early in the second with a school-record 98-yard pass from Cuevas to a streaking Rogelio Ramirez (155 yards, two TDs) but then the Coogs put 13 more on the board to lead, 27-7 at the half.
Nelson Hampton, needing 43 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, played with a severe ankle sprain and though he ran hard all night, got just four yards on 17 carries, a season low. The North defense, allowing 360 yards and 38 points a night coming in, clamped down hard on the ground game with Rodriguez, promising soph Vicente Ortiz (12 tackles) and dependable senior Moises Beltran (eight) leading the way.
Still, the Jags came out and marched 89 yards in 12 plays to start the third, converting three third-down tries before junior Danny Saavedra (80 yards on five grabs, two TDs, and eight tackles on defense) raced 33 yards with a Cuevas strike for six at 6:52.
But North came right back with a 74-yard drive of its own, capped by a 1-yard smash from Bryan, who ended the year with 483 yards and a 6.9 average per carry.
“Mike is a north-south runner with a lot of awareness, he can really run the ball,” said Garza, whose team gained 374 total yards, 251 rushing.
Cuevas lost the handle on the next series, regaining possession at his own 1 after a 20-yard loss, and after the Jags punted, North scored again at 11:35 of the fourth with Bryan steaming 19 yards for a 41-14 advantage.
Then it turned interesting, as the Jags got hot with Cuevas finding Ramirez down the left sideline for a 46-yard TD and then leading his team 90 yards for another scoring drive at 4:22. Cuevas finished it with a 1-yard sneak to make it 41-27 and after Econ got the onside kick, it was Saavedra with a 31-yard hookup from Cuevas at 3:15.
Pacheco (83 yards rushing on 20 carries) helped the offense crunch out two first downs and the season was over.
“It’s nice to get a win, we needed it because nothing has gone right for us,” said Pacheco, who broke a pinkie in the first period but gutted it out nonetheless. “We stayed with it all year, the guys you see out here right now went through it all and they came back for this game, to win it. We did that.”
Hampton is now looking forward to the Valley All-Star Game in the summer, and will see if he can catch on with a college program. At one point this season he was the only player in the area to make the Top 10 in rushing and receptions, and the soft-spoken senior speedster was upbeat after the loss.
“I really wanted to win more games this year, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” Hampton admitted. “I wasn’t able to do much tonight, I could barely run, but I wanted to give it a shot and see what happened.”
ECON VS NORTH
ECON (1-6, 3-7) 0-7-7-20 — 34
NORTH (1-6, 1-9) 14-13-7-7 — 41
N: Mike Hinojosa 23 pass from Michael Pacheco (Josue Morales kick) 9:04
N: Rollie Borrego 2 run (Morales kick) 2:58
E: Rogelio Ramirez 98 pass from Edgar Cuevas (Angel Duran kick) 7:39
N: Mike Bryan 7 run (kick failed) 5:36
N: Borrego 2 run (Morales kick) 0:17
E: Danny Saavedra 33 pass from Cuevas (Duran kick) 6:52
N: Bryan 1 run (Morales kick) 0:20
N: Bryan 19 run (Morales kick) 11:35
E: Ramirez 46 pass from Cuevas (Duran kick) 11:05
E: Cuevas 1 run (kick failed) 4:22
E: Saavedra 31 pass from Cuevas (Duran kick) 3:15
ECON: FD 20; RUSH 1; PASS 385; TOTAL 386; TO 0
RUSHING: James Villarreal 1-7; Marcus Salinas 1-7; Nelson Hampton 17-4; Cuevas 3-(-17)
PASSING: Cuevas 22-27-0 385
RECEIVING: Ramirez 4-155; Salinas 7-92; Saavedra 5-80; Hampton 3-31; Sergio Jimenez 2-16; Villarreal 1-11
TACKLES: Aaron Garza 9; David Lee Rodriguez 9; Saavedra 8; Thunder Bernal 7; Andy Garza 6; Andy Duarte 6; Aaron Garcia 5; Victor Salinas 5; Justin Leija 5; Tony Helton 5
NORTH: FD 25; RUSH 251; PASS 123; TOTAL 374; TO 0
RUSHING: Bryan 13-127; Pacheco 20-83; Borrego 10-41
PASSING: Pacheco 11-13-0 123; Ruben Cavazos 0-1-0
RECEIVING: Hinojosa 6-65; Tevin Brown 2-30; Frankie Garcia 2-22; Borrego 1-6
TACKLES: Robert Rodriguez 14; Vicente Ortiz 12; Moises Beltran 8; Jorge Chapa 7; Jerry de la Garza 6; Keith Silva 5; Blaze Walker 5; Alan Garza 5