Down 7-0 after a quarter, the Sharks battled back, getting a handful of clutch plays from all over the field to defeat Fort Bend Saturday night. The 30-14 victory improved the team record to 12-0 and sent the Landsharks into the TUFL semi-finals this week.
That state semifinal match will be at 7 p.m. on the turf at Cats Stadium, after Edinburg beat back a stiff challenge from the semi-pro Storm, who visited the Valley from the Houston area.
With star receiver Kalani Jaime out for the year with a broken bone in his hand, some of the other cats stepped up, namely veteran “Varsity Joe” Villarreal, who snared a 20-yard touchdown pass from QB Renato Nunez to bring the Sharks to within one early in the second period.
But Fort Bend (7-5) is a squad with size and talent, led by slashing 230-pound quarterback Lance Crisien, who bolted for 120 yards on the night. With the count 7-6 in his favor, he got loose for a 59-yard scamper to six, but the play was nullified by one of 10 penalties on the visitor.
Nunez (16 of 29 for 182 yards) got the Sharks rolling with three first downs to the FB 11. But there they stalled when Villarreal was ruled out of the back of the end zone on what would have been his second TD of the half.
Then came the play of the half, as linebacker Mike Martinez - out most of the season after major surgery - picked off a Crisien ball and rumbled inside the 5.
From there, it became third-and-1, and with his brother Gibby on the side yelling for him to “Move the pile, Joe!” center Joe Ramirez led Nunez across the goal0 on a quick-snap sneak for the 14-7 lead.
Edinburg later gambled on a fake punt that came up short, giving the Storm a chance late in the period from the Shark 48. But Martinez (8 tackles) combined with Jaime Hinojosa (8 also) and Sergio Rojas (nine to pace the defense) to turn the visitor back on a key third-down play.
Fort Bend drove methodically to start the second half, reaching the Edinburg 43, but Rojas chased Crisien down and forced a fumble that cornerback Randy Johnson (seven stops and three passes defensed in his second straight stellar contest) fell on to stop the march.
From there, the Sharks got a nifty third-down catch from Villarreal for a first down and then Nunez lofted a post-pattern aerial to Shedric Dallas, who bounced off two tacklers en route to a 27-yard scoring play at 7:07, giving his unit a 22-7 advantage.
Edinburg benefited from inspired running by Nick Carpenter, who banged for 92 yards on 15 carries, and also got the usual defensive magic from end Bernie Luna, who posted sacks on the next two possessions to give the Sharks momentum.
But the offense, which picked up 298 yards total, fumbled twice and as the fourth period began, the Storm narrowed the gap to 8 at 22-14 on a 55-yard bomb.
If there was one weakness for Fort Bend, it was the official’s flag. The Storm pinned Edinburg deep on the ensuing kickoff but was called for offside, forcing a re-kick. Then they held, but roughed punter Bryon Gonzalez (he had six catches in a fine effort) and later committed an unsportsmanlike penalty to give the Sharks a first down at the 16. Carpenter, who put his head down and pounded oncoming tacklers on his best night of the season, barreled in from the 4 at 5:49 for some breathing room.
The resilient Storm rallied late but suffered two more sacks as the Shark defense, touched for 326 yards, dug in. When Rojas and Co. hauled down Crisien short of the sticks in the waning moments, it was done.
Edinburg looked toward a third-round playoff game against an old nemesis, the Texas Colts, who defeated Brownsville Saturday to advance to the third round. The group is looking to duplicate the state title it won in 2006, and the next comes at home Saturday night.
NOTES: The return game was golden for the Sharks Saturday, as speedy Marco Guzman and Brandon Highsmith gave the team excellent starting field position most of the night. Linebacker Raymond Fuentes continues to contribute; he made seven stops against Fort Bend, as despite giving up some long gains, the defense was very solid when it needed to be.