DONNA — It shall go down as the night that the Cougars started with a sputter, ended with a bang, and yet left the Mid-Valley for home without a win in three 2010 starts.

The Coogs (0-3) rallied from a 21-0 hole Friday to nearly catch the Redskins of Donna at the wire, driving 90 yards in 15 plays late in the fourth, with quarterback Ruben Cavazos leading the way. When Rollie Borrego barged in from the 1 with 35 seconds left to make it 21-20, Coach Roy Garza elected to gamble with a two-point conversion try. The pass to Michael Hinojosa was caught but the junior receiver was brought down short, handing the 1-point win to Donna, now 2-1.

The gut-wrenching loss marked the first time North has started 0-3 since 2006, when the team dropped its first six contests before netting a victory against rival Edinburg. With a bye week now, the injury-depleted Coogs can rest up and prepare for 31-5A play, which opens Thursday, Sept. 23 at P-SJ-A.

North was awful at the start, with four turnovers on its first four possessions, with Donna taking advantage for a 14-0 lead after a period and a 21-0 advantage midway through the second. Cavazos, who replaced starter Michael Pacheco after the latter sprained an ankle against Sharyland, threw three picks in the first half with one being returned for a touchdown.

But he regained his composure well, leading the offense downfield for a clutch score as the second quarter aged. The slim senior would complete 20 of 37 balls for 241 yards and two TDs, and he was 7 of 8 on the second-period march of 80 yards. His 9-yard pass to Joel Cuellar breathed life into a downcast team and made it 21-7 at the half.

The Cougar D, which had held Donna at the 13 earlier in the half, came to play after the break, paced by senior linebacker Robert Rodriguez, who had a tremendous night on the road with 15 tackles. The unit limited Donna to just 38 total yards after halftime, and for the game surrendered 285 in a nice effort.

Meanwhile, Cavazos picked up where he had left off, piloting a 70-yard drive capped by a 6-yard pass to Matt Vargas for the score at 9:25 of the third. The Coogs had suffered a delay of game call from the 1, but Cavazos made a terrific play to redeem the group. He looked inside with the rush coming, pumped, saw Vargas breaking free to his left at the last second, and short-armed a perfect pitch for the six, cutting the margin to seven. Speedster Frankie Garcia had set up the march with an exciting 56-yard gain off a short pass down to the 3.

On the next Donna series, Andrew Lozano broke through to sack the Donna passer with help from lanky end Evan Garza, both of whom were stars of the third period. With Rodriguez making two big hits, North forced a punt and set off again, trying to tie the game.

The Coogs reached midfield before Borrego (75 yards on 17 carries) fumbled it away, but Lozano then made a huge tackle-for-loss to force Donna to kick once again.

In the fourth, Donna drove to the shadow of the North goal to put it away, but Zeke Chapa hopped on a fumble at the 10 with six minutes to go.

One last chance for Cavazos, and he responded like a veteran versus a tiring Brave D. The club went to the run to churn out the march, with Cavazos keeping four times for 30 yards, and Borrego hauling in a huge screen pass for 13 yards on a third-and-13 play to put the ball at the 9. Eventually, Borrego, who ran tough all night against a hard-hitting Donna D, pushed it in and after a timeout, North went for broke, only to fall short.

Garza noted that with the injuries the team has fallen victim to so far in 2010, he felt like the personnel was so thin, a two-point try was justified.

“Plus, I thought the kids deserved the chance to win that game right then and there,” he said. “I like their character, and what they stand for. They fought back after we made a bunch of turnovers and kicked ourselves in the butt. That last call, that was coaching, so you can put that in me.”

NOTES: No fewer than four secondary men were on the shelf with various ailments coming in, and promising sophomore Vince Garza was lost to a knee injury in the game. Junior receiver Tevin Brown made three catches for 41 yards before leaving the fray with a concussion. QB Pacheco could return in two to four weeks.

The offense made 24 first downs to 12 for Donna, and outgained the home side by 168 yards; the difference was the disparity in the miscue department, with North committing five turnovers to just one for Donna. For the season, the squad is minus-seven in turnover ratio.

Two sophomores started on the offensive line Friday, Brandon Aleman and Michael Gomez.

NORTH AT DONNA

NORTH (0-3) 0-7-7-6 — 20

DONNA (2-1) 14-7-0-0 — 21

SCORING

D: 67 pass (kick good) 10:12

D: 22 interception return (kick good) 5:05

D: 17 run (kick good) 7:12

N: Joel Cuellar 9 pass from Ruben Cavazos (Josue Monte kick) 3:25

N: Matt Vargas 6 pass from Cavazos (Monte kick) 9:25

N: Rollie Borrego 1 run (pass failed) 0:35

STATS

NORTH: FD 25; RUSH 115; PASS 258; TOTAL 373; TO 5

RUSH: Borrego 17-75; Cavazos 6-34; Michael Bryan 4-9; Frankie Garcia 1(-3)

PASS: Cavazos 20-37-3 241; Garcia 1-1-0 17

RECEIVING: Hinojosa 7-92; Garcia 1-56; Tevin Brown 3-41; Borrego 4-28; Christian Marin 1-17; Cuellar 3-19; Vargas 1-6; Jake Hrbacek 1-6

TACKLES: Robert Rodriguez 15; Steve Najera 6; Marin 6; Alan Garza 6; Blaze Walker 5/FUM: Zeke Chapa/SACKS: Andrew Lozano _; Evan Garza _

DONNA: FD 12; RUSH 108; PASS 97; TOTAL 205; TO 1