Frank Fuentes hollered to his team late in the night.
“Who’s going to Houston? Raise your hand!”
Art Diaz raised his hand. Marcos Guzman raised his. They all did, did the Edinburg Landsharks, thanks to Saturday’s 34-18 home win over the Texas Colts at Cats Stadium. The Sharks are now 13-0, winners of the conference championship, and will compete at Prairie View this weekend for their second TUFL state title in four seasons.
They are headed to Houston after a spirited victory against an enormous opponent from Houston, a bunch that set numerous records for trash-talking but got whipped by the Valley club fair and square.
The game almost didn’t happen, as a long delay at the onset over an absent referee put the Colts into lawyer mode. The coaches of that squad lobbied for a forfeit as the minutes ticked by, but that didn’t work. They had to play, and the official eventually showed up in the first period.
And it was the first period that established the home side’s dominance as Renato Nunez pitched three scoring balls in the first 15 minutes, including a 55-yarder to Guzman on the team’s second play from scrimmage.
Two possessions later, Guzman got open again for a 58-yard touchdown catch, and it was 14-0, with the visitors crying a river and trying to figure out what was happening.
Though they rallied with a 66-yard TD bomb, the Colts were outclassed by the Sharks, and at the end of the half it was 27-10, Valley.
Not without a few moments of worry, however. But after Texas narrowed the gap to 7 at 14-7, Econ ex Jaime Hinojosa made a huge sack to end the next Colt march, forcing a fumble that Bernie Luna pounced on for a turnover.
Soon, Guzman did it again, getting free for a 10-yard score from Nunez, and then Luna forced a fumble that Randy Johnson recovered, leading to a 28-yard toss from Nunez to Shedrick Dallas.
As they’ve done all season, the Sharks made the plays in the clutch, as all four first-half scores came on third-down plays. Nunez was 10 of 15 in the half and the Shark D limited its opponent to 22 total yards aside from the 66-yard strike.
The second half was about as ugly as it gets, a turnover fest with the ball changing hands twice on one snap due to a Colt interception but a fumble at the end of the play. Edinburg got the better of the deal, as Raymond Fuentes picked off two passes in the half and Brandon Highsmith did too. Highsmith returned the second one 61 yards for a TD to seal the game at 6:23 of the fourth, but there was a fantastic goal-line stand before that told the tale of the night.
With the score still 27-10 in the fourth, the Colts drove for a first down at the Shark 2, but four times, linebacker Sergio Rojas and the D stood their ground. On fourth-and-goal, the Texas QB rolled right but cornerback Mike Folton came up to make a superb open-field tackle and keep the runner out of the end zone, bulldogging him to the green a yard short.
Though the Sharks surrendered a safety on the next play, Folton’s do-or-die effort had kept the athletic but erratic Colts from coming back to within a touchdown.
After Highsmith’s return for six, Texas blocked a field goal for a 75-yard return TD to make it 34-18, but veteran signal-caller Clarence Cruz dusted off the mothballs to come in and direct the team and run out the clock, adding in one of his patented scrambles for a first down in the process.
For the game. Edinburg collected 264 yards and allowed 200. The Sharks gave six turnovers but took eight, and were led by Luna (eight tackles), Mike Martinez (nine) and Rojas (eight, all in the second half.) Hinojosa was on fire early on, with five stops in the first 20 minutes, and two QB pressures.
Coach Joe Ramirez said that when the Sharks watched Colts’ film early in the week, they figured that their speed advantage would come to the fore.
“I knew we could get open, and we did it early,” said Ramirez of the twin bombs to the speedy Guzman that broke the ice off the bat. “Now we are waiting to see who we play for the championship.”