PHARR — Through the slim sheets of rain riding across the pitch, they embraced, winners of yet another district title.
Vivian Garza and Juan Pantoja, gutty seniors who helped hold off the Bears Friday, chest-bumped with weary but happy keeper Bobby Navarro. Those veterans, along with the rest of the Jags, had just wrapped up a 1-0 win on the road against P-SJ-A. Despite a last-second shot that came way too close, Econ had done it again for the fifth straight year, winning the fight for the top spot in 31-5A.
When Ivan “Tio” Camarillo blocked a point-blank try off a corner kick inside the final 10 seconds, the Jags (11-2 in league play) had survived a consistent onslaught to take the crown they become accustomed to in six of the last nine years under Coach Sam Gonzalez.
“We won it again!” said a jubilant Camarillo afterward. “It all starts with defense, and this was a really good game. The Bears played well but we did our job on defense.”
Junior Camarillo, who took over in the back for departed Julio Perez, the All-Valley MVP on D a year ago, played his usual strong game, deflecting Bear tries with booming clearing kicks.
Pantoja, always a dangerous scorer, is a vastly underrated man on the other end; he and talented midfielder Garza bent back time and again Friday to put a stop to P-SJ-A runs, of which there were at least 10 on a night where the rains picked up in the second half and the temperature dipped to 50 degrees.
And in the back was Navarro, who discovered a pregame secret that helped him turn the athletic Bears away when it counted. He’d noted when warming up that the wet grass made it tough for him to grasp the ball.
“I knew I was going to have to punch the ball away when it came,” said the stocky three-year letterman who’s got aspirations for college soccer and whose performance this year has been exceptional. “I was afraid I would drop one, so I decided to punch them all out, and it worked.”
Seven times in the second half, Navarro knocked Bear shots out of the goal area, and though four of the glove pops led to corner kicks by the enemy, the combination of his quick reactions and great help from the rest of the Jags did the job.
After a scoreless first half, Econ tallied what would be the game-winner on a marvelous 50-yard running play ending with a sliding goal from Abel Farias, the speedy hustler who joins Pantoja up front in the Jags’ quick-strike attack. Irvin Ochoa, who had a solid night across the board, flipped a great pass to Tony Martinez, and he launched a long shot right to left. Farias chased down left and reached the ball 10 yards out, slipping it past the Bear keeper at 37:49 of the half, as Econ grabbed the lead with a lot of time left.
The rest of the way, the defense dug in against a determined Bear group. Huge defender Ruben Silerio had nearly scored in the waning seconds of the first half, but Ochoa denied him. P-SJ-A, a game behind Econ coming in, had several golden opportunities in the last 30 minutes, but every time, someone came up sterling for the champs.
Pantoja stepped in for a huge block at 1:20 of the ball game, but the Bears advanced to a corner kick with 20 seconds left. The arching ball found a striker, but Garza got in the way. When the Bear forward regained possession, Camarillo bodied him up to foil the attempt, with the ball caroming out of bounds.
Navarro took his time retrieving it, and the clock ran out on P-SJ-A.
NOTES: North won big against P-SJ-A Memorial Friday with Cesar Barajas scoring four times, and for the 9-4 Cougars, a bi-district matchup versus Brownsville Pace is looking likely. The Jags will probably get either Los Fresnos or Brownsville Hanna in their first-round game.
In girls’ action, North looks sound for second after moving to 11-2 last week; the Lady Coogs are most likely going to get San Benito in bi-district. EHS is battling Harlingen for third place right now, with a game against tough challengers Pace or Rivera on tap for bi-district.