When they’re trying to run out the clock in the waning minutes, most teams have the quarterback take the snap and kneel down in back of center. But the Jags, well, they have a superstar in the making named Nelson Hampton, so when the seconds need killing, why not give him the rock instead?

With Econ holding tight to a 2-point lead in waning time Saturday night, Hampton erupted for a 35-yard run deep inside Lopez territory, capping a hard-fought 37-35 victory for the surprising Jags, now 2-1 heading into the bye week.

The elusive junior speedster, younger brother of Bryan “Black Cat” Iglesias of past Jag fame, compiled 146 yards on just 12 carries with three touchdowns, as the team’s I Formation attack stormed to 445 total yards, 289 on the ground. Hampton’s third score, a scintillating 53-yarder with 5:49 left, may have been the biggest run in years for the Orange.

After Lopez quarterback Danny Perez (108 yards rushing, 198 passing) led an 11-play, 90-yard drive in the fourth to bring the Lobos (0-2) to within two at 30-28, the Jags looked shaky. There had been five penalty flags in six snaps during the long march (three on Econ), including a painful roughing-the-passer call on a fourth-down stop that kept the Lobos in business even after Perez misfired.

But Hampton (247 yards, 7.7 per carry in three games now) was not to be denied. With the ball at the Jag 47, he took a pitch right and swerved with a flourish past the first wave of defenders. Beating the safety to the perimeter and jetting down the right sidelines, Hampton then cut back left deftly past the last man at the 15, and it was End Zone City on the play of the night.

Afterward, Hampton, a quiet, respectful sort who prefers to let his feet do the woofing, was uncharacteristically bold.

“This is going to be a good season for us,” he said. “We work hard and we always hustle, even when they got close, we knew we were going to win. We have a good team.”

When asked if that last run was the way the Jags always run out the clock, “The Little Cat” just grinned.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “But I tell you what, we are going to make the playoffs this year…that’s not a prediction, it’s just fact!”

Hampton came to the varsity last season as a receiver and led the team with 30 receptions. He showed that 2009 was going to be something with a pair of scores in the team’s opening road victory over Porter, including a 55-yard punt return TD.

A member of the highly successful freshman squad two years back that won the district, Hampton is joined in the backfield by herky-jerky and quirky scatback Isaac “Washington” Vazquez and bruising fullback Rey Trevino. That pair collected 113 yards combined behind an improving line paced by tackle Pedro Ornelas and center Mike Garza. Coach Oscar Salinas will get senior runner Gary Rodriguez back from an injury in time for the Pharr North game in two weeks.

“We have some weapons this year, for sure,” said the long-time mentor, whose bunch was just 2-8 in ‘08 and thus has already matched that total, in only three contests. “We have some guys who can make plays and tonight they did it when we needed it most.”

UP AND DOWN

THE FIELD

Coming off a bitter 33-28 loss to McAllen Memorial last week after leading late, the Jags faced a Lopez team that has one of the Valley’s most explosive offensive units. When one straps it on with the Lobos, scoring is the order of the day, or else.

So that is what Econ did, with 14 points in quick fashion in the first period. However, it almost looked like trouble from the start. Perez, a lean, mean hustler who has a fine arm and some live legs, tossed a bomb to sophomore Aaron Lopez on the first play from scrimmage, down to the Jag 23. But soon after, senior Ulises Umanzor intercepted a pass at the 5 and raced 69 yards the other way. Eventually, Hampton circled right end and beat the defense to the flag for a 15-yard score at 9:37.

The Wrecking Crew Defense forced a rare Lopez three-and-out, but senior QB Rudy Villarreal and the offense found themselves in dire straits with a 3rd-and-27 situation. No problem for the gutty little passer, who connected with tight end Mario Lamas (five catches for 100 yards in the first half) for a 58-yard pass-and-run gem, leading to a 16-yard burst from Trevino at 6:20.

Lopez struck back, with Lopez churning 97 yards with the kickoff, making it 14-6; the Lobos can light it up in a hurry, but they have not stopped anyone yet this year.

Villarreal was 8 of 14 for the game for 156 yards; despite his diminutive stature, he can air it out. He took the Jags 76 yards on 10 plays, completing a key ball to Lamas for 13 on a 3rd-and-14 call, then rushed for the first down himself. Later, Hampton went in from the 4 and it was the Jags sailing along, 21-6.

With star linebacker Victor Salinas at less than 100 percent with a strained knee, the Crew had some woes against Lopez. It allowed a 14-play, 86-yard drive, aided by a pass interference call, and the Lobos narrowed the gap with a 13-yard pass from Perez to Lopez with 3:41 to go.

Hampton, who had already fumbled once but regained possession earlier, put another on the Cats Stadium turf, with Lopez grabbing it. So far, it is his only seeming weakness. Penalties again hurt the home side, as a facemask flag gave the Lobos momentum as the half waned. Perez was 3 for 3 on the drive and found Margarito Trevino for a 10-yard scoring pass with 1:12 to go, 21-20 at the break.

THE TRACK MEET CONTINUES

It was a Saturday Night Shootout, with neither defense getting much traction and the offensive weapons on display. Econ marched to the Lopez 38 but a motion penalty and a drop of a bomb by Andrew Fox (led the team with 11 tackles at safety) stopped the opening try of the second half.

Veterans Luis Huerta and Arnulfo Rodriguez (eight stops, tough end Sonny Bernal achieved seven) fired up the defense for a stop, but the Jags couldn’t move it. Salinas then punted a liner 51 yards to the 5, and the Crew dug in to turn the mojo back Orange’s way. The rush chased Perez into the end zone, where holding was whistled on the Lobos, for a safety at 3:21.

Senior Frank Vega returned the free kick to his own 46 and Hampton immediately glided for a 17-yard gain. The Jags soon faced a 3rd-and-12 when Villarreal located sprinter Danny Garcia behind the cornerback for a 39-yard touchdown play that provided the team some cushion at 30-20. That was one big throw from Villarreal, who passed for three TDs last week against Memorial.

However, Lopez would control the ball for the lion’s share of the last 15 minutes, going on extended TD drives of 90 and 82 yards, scoring 15 points. But they never led, as Hampton’s long-distance masterpiece split the difference, and Econ held on for the win. Lamas had grabbed an onside kick with a minute left to set up the last 35-yard Little Cat Breakout.

“Our defense is going to fix those troubles, it is mainly a matter of learning a whole new defense,” said Salinas, after the Jags gave up 340 yards. Memorial picked up 411 after Porter had managed just 164 in Zero Week. “I think our defense is going to be fine, I am not worried about it.”

The main negative in the win was 100 yards of penalties, several calls originating from the personal foul/unsportsmanlike genre. Salinas commented that he was going to have a chat with his group about keeping composure under fire, but added that football is an emotional sport, and tempers sometimes flare up.

“Bottom line, we could have given up tonight, but we kept on fighting, even though Lopez was coming on strong,” he said. “Those kids could have packed it in, but they didn’t, and I think a lot of our team for that.”

LOPEZ AT ECON

LOPEZ 6 14 0 15 - 35

ECON 14 7 9 7 - 37

SCORING

E: Nelson Hampton 15 run (Rogelio Ramirez kick) 9:37

E: Rey Trevino 16 run (Ramirez kick) 6:20

L: Aaron Lopez 97 kickoff return (kick failed) 6:03

E: Hampton 4 run (Ramirez kick) 9:34

L: Lopez 13 pass from Danny Perez (pass failed) 3:41

L: Margarito Trevino 10 pass from Perez (pass good) 1:12

E: safety, Lopez called for holding in end zone 3:1

E: Danny Garcia 39 pass from Rudy Villarreal (Ramirez kick) 1:00

L: Perez 10 run (pass good) 7:04

E: Hampton 53 run (Ramirez kick) 5:49

L: Pablo Torres 1 run (Sergio De la Garza kick) 1:21

STATS

LOPEZ: FD 22; RUSH 142; PASS 198; TOTAL 340; TO 1

ECON: FD 21; RUSH 289; PASS 156; TOTAL 445; TO 1

RUSH: Hampton 12-146; Isaac Vazquez 16-78; Trevino 5-35; Villarreal 7-30

PASS: Villarreal 8-15-0 156

RECEIVING: Mario Lamas 5-100; Garcia 1-39; Hampton 1-10; Trevino 1-7

TACKLES: Andrew Fox 11; Arnulfo Rodriguez 8; Sonny Bernal 7; Alvaro Bocanegra 6, Victor Salinas 6; Rolly Espinoza 5 /INTERCEPTIONS: Ulises Umanzor/SACKS: Roger Garza