There’s been a heap of talk this season about good quarterbacks in the Valley, and in town as well. Matthew Kaufmann of McAllen Memorial, Mack Sanchez of Harlingen, Johnny Esparza of Lyford come to mind, along with Matt Munoz of Edinburg North.

Let’s add Econ passer Rudy Villarreal’s name to the conversation because, people, he deserves the props.

With the Jags needing a win against Harlingen South at Cats Stadium Friday to set up Friday’s showdown with North, all the little senior did was throw three TD passes to lead the Jags to the promised land. The 20-0 whitewashing made the team 1-1 in District 31-5A and 3-2 overall, as Coach Oscar Salinas’ club surpassed last year’s win total at the halfway point in 2009.

After his quarterback completed 5 of 8 balls for 126 yards, finding Andrew Fox twice and Nelson Hampton once for sixes in the first half, Salinas filled in the details about the heretofore unknown quantity.

“Rudy is a guy who stuck with it, other people left and he worked hard to get the job,” said Salinas, whose defense allowed just 83 total yards to the winless Hawks. “He’s a survivor, but he’s also a smart kid who reads well and has a lot of poise back there.”

Villarreal has now tossed for 675 yards this season with eight touchdowns and just one interception. The Jags came into the season in the old I Formation, to take advantage of their plethora of solid backs. But Villarreal has made big plays from the start, with TD strikes of 71 and 47 coming into Friday’s match.

“He’s not just managing the ball game, he’s winning some for us,” said the coach, after Villarreal went up top for scores of 47 and 17 to Fox and 40 to Hampton. Secret weapon Fox has now caught three balls this year, all for TDs.

The Jags had started the district slate with a good effort against Pharr North last week, losing 35-21 after being tied in the third period. South is having its share of troubles again this season, but came out with some tricks early. The Hawks faked a punt on their first possession but dropped a pass that would have gained a first down.

On the next play, or the team’s first from scrimmage, Fox outran his man down the middle and Villarreal lofted a sweet spiral to him for a 47-yard score and a 6-0 lead at 8:38 of the first.

The Wrecking Crew Defense simply dominated South, and after the Fox bomb, linebacker Alvaro Bocanegra made the first of his two sacks (the team had four) to force a punt.

Later in the first Econ got a break when the Hawks committed a facemask penalty on a Jag punt, giving the Orange new life. Villarreal coolly threw quickly to avoid a blitz on third down, finding tight end Joel Gonzalez for first-down yardage. The drive ended with Fox hauling in a lob from Villarreal for a 17-yard TD play on which the senior receiver received a bonus from the refs. It appeared that he got one foot down, but the ruling was touchdown, and at 10:35 of the second it was 12-0, Jags.

Harlingen South then mounted its only decent march of the night, grinding from its 14 to the Econ 29, the drive being kept going when an interception by Aaron Garcia was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer flag. But veteran Arnulfo Rodriguez came up with another pick, and this one counted, to turn the Hawks back.

With the ball at their own 32 and 1:59 left, the Jags went to work until with 0:51 to go, Hampton, bothered by an ankle sprain, got loose deep to gather in Villarreal’s perfect ball at the 4 to complete a 40-yard TD that gave the team all the points it would need for the win.

The Jag defense was superb, Fox leading the way with 14 tackles and junior LB Victor Salinas, nearly recovered from a lingering knee injury, adding 13. Bocanegra and rough-customer end Sonny Bernal made nine stops apiece while lean corner Uliser Umanzor continued his solid play with eight tackles.

The second half was hard to watch, as the teams combined for just four first downs and 55 total yards, punting nine times and never threatening to change the digits on the scoreboard. The game had started 45 minutes late due to a lightning alert, putting a slight damper on the school’s Homecoming celebration. The scary weather never arrived, but Villarreal made up for that with some thunder from his right arm.

Villarreal is a quiet sort who has all kinds of calm under pressure. After the win, he simply said that he’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win.

“I have confidence in what I can do,” he said. “But really, I just trust my teammates, that’s what matters.”

SOUTH AT ECON

SOUTH 0 0 0 0 - 0

ECON 6 14 0 0 - 20

SCORING

E: Andrew Fox 47 pass from Rudy Villarreal (kick blocked) 8:38

E: Fox 17 pass from Villarreal (kick blocked) 10:35

E: Nelson Hampton 40 pass from Villarreal (Hampton pass from Villarreal) 0:51

STATS

SOUTH: FD 10: RUSH 54; PASS 29; TOTAL 83

ECON: FD 7; RUSH 57; PASS 126; TOTAL 183

RUSH: Villarreal 4-22; Danny Garcia 3-21; Isaac Vazquez 4-10; Hampton 3-6; Gary Rodriguez 5-1; Rey Trevino 1(-1); Marcos Reyes 1(-2)

PASS: Villarreal 5-8-0 126

RECEIVING: Fox 2-64; Hampton 2-48; Joel Gonzalez 1-14

TACKLES: Fox 14; Victor Salinas 13; Alvaro Bocanegra 9; Sonny Bernal 9; Uliser Umanzor 8; Roger Garza 6; Arnulfo Rodriguez 6; Luis Huerta 6; Pedro Alvarado 5; Matt Mariscal 5; Jose Quintanilla 5/INTERCEPTIONS: Rodriguez/SACKS: Bocanegra 2; Mariano Garza; Salinas