Could this be the Wrecking Crew of old, come back to lead the Jags to the playoffs? Could be, after a sparkling display of turnover propensity led Econ to a 28-21 victory over McAllen Rowe at home Friday in the season opener for both schools.
Senior Aaron Garcia returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns in a torrid first quarter, as the Orange defense forced five turnovers to pace the squad to the win. Econ also got a pair of clutch touchdowns from senior Nelson Hampton and withstood a late Warrior rush to clinch it.
As the Jags seek a return to the postseason for the first since 2004, they advance upon the 2010 campaign with some exciting defenders in the house. Along with the veteran Garcia at corner, end Victor Salinas (seven tackles) and linebacker Arnold Alvarado (11 to lead the unit) were outstanding Friday, with LB Alvaro Bocanegra making six hits and forcing the fumble that Garcia ran in before leaving with a concussion midway through.
The defense allowed 315 total yards but the turnovers were the story, including an interception by safety Sergio Jimenez and another from sophomore safety Andy Duarte, whose hit on the receiver knocked the ball in the air for Jimenez to come down with. The rangy Duarte also made six tackles.
Offensively, Edgar Cuevas ran the team effectively, completing 11 of 16 balls and running for two first downs on sneaks.
The Jags came out ready to work, driving 65 yards in 14 plays behind a trio of sophomores on the offensive line. Senior tailback Rey Trevino ripped off gains of 12 and 13 yards on the march while Cuevas picked up a key first on a fourth-and-1 to the 25. Hampton, who earlier had snared a fourth-down pass from Cuevas to keep the drive alive, rose in the air to end the sequence for a spectacular 20-yard TD catch at 5:17.
On Rowe’s third play of the night, Garcia swooped in to collect a ball from Danny Navarro and raced 45 yards to the end zone for a stunning 14-0 lead at 3:58.
After Jimenez made his pick on the next series, the Jags advanced inside the 10 where Hampton (eight catches for 80 yards) was clotheslined and lost the ball to Rowe.
But two snaps later, it was Garcia again, fielding a fumble on a bounce and bounding into the end zone from the 3, making 21 points in the first period for Econ.
Down the road, Praxedis “Thunder” Bernal stopped a Warrior chance with a fumble recovery after the enemy had gotten to the Jag 10, but Rowe managed a score late in the half to make it 21-7 at halftime.
Field position worked to the home side’s favor thanks to great kick returns from senior Kasey Martinez. He returned a punt to the Rowe 47 early in the third and the Jags rode their initial possession of the half into a 28-7 lead. Hampton, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, shook off a tackler behind the line and cut smartly back to the middle, dancing in for the six at 4:11.
The Orange was a bit sluggish from there, and Rowe came on behind the scrambling of Navarro and Josh Gatling. In the fourth, though, stocky tackle Jacobo Rodriguez tripped Gatling up behind the line on a huge third-down play in Jag territory.
The Warriors made it 28-14 with 7:30 left but Jimenez located the onside kick. After Econ punted (Jeremy Alvarez had a nice night kicking with his rugby-style line drives) Rowe punched in late score. But Salinas gathered in the second onside kick inside the final minute to preserve the win.
Trevino led the way with 69 tough yards in 21 carries, though the offense was limited to a total of 191 yards. The early fireworks from the Crew and solid special teams (soccer star Angel Duran was 4 for 4 on extra points while kickoff specialist Oscar Calzada made a TD-saving tackle at midfield in the second half) spelled doom for the visitor.
Next week the Jags travel to McAllen to take on a very salty Memorial team, with confidence after a good solid win.
ROWE AT ECON
ROWE 0-7-0-14 — 21
ECON 21-0-7-0 — 28
E: Nelson Hampton 20 pass from Edgar Cuevas (Angel Duran kick) 5:17
E: Aaron Garcia 45 interception return (Duran kick) 3:58
E: Garcia 3 fumble return (Duran kick) 1:03
R: Josh Gatling 13 run (Mario Baena kick) 2:51
E: Hampton 1 run (Duran kick) 4:11
R: Rigo Cano 15 run (Baena kick) 7:20
R: Eli Suarez 22 run (Baena kick) 0:59
ROWE: FD 17; RUSH 171; PASS 144; TOTAL 315; TO 5
ECON: FD 14; RUSH 99; PASS 92; TOTAL 191; TO 2
RUSHING: Rey Trevino 21-69; Osiel Garza 4-21; Hampton 9-6; Cuevas 5-3
PASSING: Cuevas 11-16-1 92
RECEIVING: Hampton 8-80; Rogelio Ramirez 2-7; Marcus Salinas 1-5
TACKLES: Arnold Alvarado 11; Victor Salinas 7; Alvaro Bocanegra 6; Aaron Garza 6; Andy Duarte 6/INT: Duarte, Sergio Jimenez; FUM: Garcia, Praxedis Bernal