LA JOYA — After pelting the incoming fans with a rainstorm an hour before the game, the clouds threatened occasionally during the night but never summoned enough interest to strike again.
However, the Edinburg rooters who ventured west through the strange evening saw plenty of striking power, from senior quarterback Matt Munoz and the opportunistic Edinburg North defense.
Munoz completed 13 of 15 passes in the first half and finished with 228 yards and two scores, while the Cougars (2-1) scored twice on defense in a convincing 50-20 rout over La Joya here Thursday.
The victory sets up a showdown with District 31-5A favorite Harlingen in two weeks, with the Coogs having gotten some confidence back after a poor effort in last week’s 24-10 loss at Sharyland. Against the Rattlers, North was sluggish in falling behind 17-0 and never really got into the flow of the game.
But Thursday, Munoz carried the day with an outstanding show. After having rushed for 183 yards last week, the senior signal caller added 51 more against the Coyotes to lead the team. But it was his pinpoint passing accuracy that was more vital.
He was 5 for 5 on the first drive, which carried to the 1 before a pair of motion penalties (the team was dogged by mistakes, to the tune of 100 yards worth of flags) prompted a 28-yard field goal from Allan Guajardo at 6:01. The kick banged off the right crossbar and dropped over to the good, and North was off and running.
“Last week killed us,” said Munoz, who was 1 of 8 through the air against Sharyland but rebounded to go 17 of 25 this time out. “They stunted a lot and had our young line a little confused. I was running for my life out there.”
In the comeback game, however, the line did a good job in the main, giving Munoz time to set up, and helping the offense to a 399-yard output after a subpar 242 total versus Shary.
“This is more like it,” said Munoz midway through. “I think we can hang with Harlingen, we just have to cut out all the little mistakes.”
Coyotes Coach Leonel Casas noted before the match that his young group has not stopped anyone well this season despite a 1-1 record coming in. On offense, the Coyotes have relied on shifty Lee Ramirez for the bulk of the work. He had 135 yards against North and La Joya gained three first downs on its second possession, only to see it end in disaster.
North end Hector Trejo jumped in front of a screen pass delivered by junior QB Victor Leanos under a heavy rush from linebacker Josh DeLuna, returning the pick 45 yards for a 9-0 lead at 11:02 of the second period.
The next La Joya chance ended in the second of five turnovers it would commit, as junior Andrew Lozano corralled a fumble at his own 42. After a holding penalty, Munoz fired three jets for 50 yards total, and he finished the fast-track drive with a 6-yard keeper, racing to the corner on the left sideline for a 16-0 advantage at 8:28.
La Joya rallied for a 72-yard drive in 12 plays to get on the board, on a 3rd-and-9 toss down the middle from Leanos to lanky slotman Roberto Garcia that went 16 yards at 4:23 of the half.
The Coogs coughed it up on the first play after the kickoff, leading to a 3-yard Coyote touch, and despite having dominated, North led just 16-13.
But then Munoz orchestrated the two-minute drill like a college passer, finding Danny Cardenas for 9 and then Andrew Partida for a pretty 14-yard laser on the sidelines. Juan Ramirez (7 for 113) ran under a 39-yard loft to put the ball at the La Joya 8, and on the next snap Munoz dropped back under pressure and tossed one off his back foot to Ramirez, crossing left to right for the TD at 2:28.
Having alternated every series with fellow senior Raul Monsevais so far this year, Munoz did not leave the lineup after late second-quarter action. He was simply too good to keep off the field.
“I have been waiting to see what I can do playing every play,” said Munoz, who entered the lockers with his team up, 23-13.
The North defensive unit has been weathering a barrage of injuries, most recently an ankle sprain to linebacker Robert Rodriguez that forced him to sit out Thursday. Starter Blaze Walker hurt a knee against La Joya, leaving the Coogs awfully thin at that slot.
But as the second half began, even with Trejo having been ejected after a second-quarter brawl on the field, the North D made the plays that tucked this one away.
They came in rapid succession to start the third, as senior Manny Garcia (a truly great night with 18 tackles) rambled 23 yards with a fumble caused by junior DL Ivan Gonzalez. The sudden storm came on the first play of the half and gave the Coogs a 30-13 lead.
Ramirez fumbled it away on La Joya’s second snap after the kickoff, leading to a 25-yard burst from senior Simon Edwards through a hole as wide as the lazy Rio Grande.
The Coyotes recovered to mount an impressive answer, cruising from their 44 down to the 9 before DeLuna made a couple of hits and corner Justin Escobedo defended a fourth-down pass.
It was a frustrating night for La Joya, which then forced a punt and drove again to the shadow of the North goal, only to fall short from the 8. Alan Garza, who made 10 tackles Thursday (DeLuna had 10 also with corner Bryan Trevino LB Oscar de la Cruz getting eight apiece) came up with a key stop on that drive, and La Joya again misfired on a fourth-down throw, with Garza providing the rush on Leanos late in the third.
From there, North steamed 92 yards to make it 43-13 on a 23-yard fade route left from Munoz to Ramirez at 11:02. Ramirez would later run a kickoff back 95 yards for an apparent TD, only to see it called back on a penalty.
After the Coyotes got a six-pointer, North matched the 50-point night it had hung on Rio Grande City in the season opener with a 1-yard burst from Michael Pacheco. With two weeks to go before taking on the Valley’s No. 1 team, the Coogs hope to get their defense healthy during a bye week, and come somewhere close to the 33 points scored off La Joya giveaways. They also want to keep going behind Munoz, on an offensive roll thus far in 2009 having accounted for 67 percent of the team’s 1,127 yards in three games.