They’re confident and prepared for the challenge ahead and what’s most important: they know that predictions and records mean squat.
As the Edinburg Bobcats (8-2) head toward Friday’s bi-district playoff game at Los Fresnos, they are working on the mental aspects of the game, fine-tuning alignments and approaches as the Second Season begins. And the fact that Los Fresnos (6-4) has struggled off and on this season, well, it doesn’t matter to the ‘Cats.
“This is a whole ‘nother world, and anything can happen,” said senior quarterback Stevie Guerrero. “It’s Friday Night Lights, and we are fired up, but we know that any game in the playoffs is hard to win.”
Junior safety Sal Martinez is sure that the defense is going to be great against the Falcons but the exciting ballhawk echoed the words of his teammate.
“We aren’t thinking like this is a for-sure thing, not even close,” he said. “We feel we can come out and play well, and we will have to, on the road. We’re excited about the chance and I think we have a good chance, we just have to execute and continue to do the things that got us here.”
Edinburg got here on the basis of a 5-game winning streak during which the running game has been superb and the defense even better. The Bobcats have topped the 40-point mark three times in the streak and allowed 212 yards per game. The season average for the defense is 239, with just 13 points a night surrendered.
Martinez noted that in practice this week the team is working on adjustments based on what the Falcons do offensively.
“A lot alignments, calls to make when they line up a certain way,” said the strong safety who is among the league leaders in interceptions and tackles. “Last year in the playoffs against Del Rio we were misaligned and it cost us on some big plays. We are working on learning tendencies this week, we need to try and anticipate what they will do so we can be in right spot.”
If the ‘Cats are going to advance to area, as they did in 2009 with an upset of District 32-5A champ Brownsville Hanna, the defense will be key, but so will the offense.
Guerrero has been sharp this season though not terribly active, with only one interception and eight touchdowns. He has thrown for 757 yards as the unit depends mainly on the run; the ‘Cats have gained more than 300 yards rushing in three of their last four contests.
“Our line has been awesome. The credit goes to the big guys,” said the smooth senior leader. “We have been able to move the ball, go for some long drives and keep the ball away from the other offense.”
Martinez is grateful for that, saying that the Cats’ ball-control attack allows the defenders to get ample rest during games.
THE OPPONENT AWAITS
Los Fresnos, under new coach Clint Finley, finished with a bang over in 32-5A, with five wins in its last six starts after a 1-3 stumble out of the gate. The Falcons have scored 126 points in their last three outings, all wins, and come into the home playoff game on a roll.
Still, this is not the vaunted Los Fresnos of a few years back. The program went 43-8 from 2005 to 2008, producing seven postseason wins and a number of Division I recruits. The Bobcats are a touchdown favorite coming in, but neither of the EHS stars is ready to say it’s a done deal.
“We know we have speed on our defense and we are sure tacklers,” Martinez said. “But this is the playoffs and nothing will be easy. “It’s a whole new level and we need to be ready.”
Guerrero, who like his defensive friend has playoff experience in abundance after last year’s run, commented that losing two games to start the league slate helped the ‘Cats come to earth.
“We did lose two, and had to get a streak going to make it,” he said, referencing defeats at the hands of Harlingen and Pharr North after a 3-0 non-district performance. “It humbled us a little and helped us get back to basics. Now we have confidence moving forward and we are not taking Los Fresnos for granted, no way.”
The Falcons are a semi-balanced group with about 60 percent pass according to Martinez. They have some weapons in quick QB Eric Castillo and do-it-all Bernie Aguilera, who has played running back and receiver in 2010. The offensive line is one of the largest in the Valley, while the defense is vastly improved from last year’s crew that gave up almost 400 points. In 10 games, LF has allowed 228.
“They have a big line but they look slow on film, and that’s where we think have an advantage,” said Martinez, who added that the D is working on defending the backside-to-frontside drag pattern as well as a decoy play Los Fresnos tends to use. “We need to keep coming up to hit, but also keep an eye on them because they throw a lot of short passes.”
Martinez opines that the EHS secondary has come together well in 2010, after losing three starters from the ’09 group.
“The corners have really played well this season, especially lately,” he said, speaking of junior Anthony de la Vina and senior Marcos Castillo. “And we need them to keep that up Friday night. Neither is that big but they know how to make contact and wrap up. You don’t always need to make a big hit, you just have to make the tackle.”
As a soph, Martinez learned the ropes under Jeremy Salinas and has filled the leadership role in 2010 with the new men in the secondary. One of the best newcomers is Teddy Lara, the junior free safety who can hit and run despite being on the slim side.
“Teddy knows he isn’t super big but he would rather come up and hit than anything else, and that’s what I like about him,” said his 190-pound mate back deep. “Plus he is really fast. The other teams may see him and think he won’t hit, but that’s not the case at all. I’ve tried to help him out when I can with advice, just like Jeremy did for me.”
As for the X factors in this one, a road game on grass doesn’t concern Guerrero. He says that the ‘Cats can play anywhere, any time.
“We don’t care if it’s turf, grass, or concrete, we are excited,” he exclaimed, adding that the EHS special teams might be a determining element Friday.
“We have three good kickers, and David Ramirez really has a leg, he can punt the ball 50 yards,” continued the senior slinger. “Plus, the cover guys, you can hear them getting all fired up on the sidelines when they’re getting ready to go in. they have really helped us all season.”
Martinez has become one of the most dangerous return men in the Valley, and has contributed a kickoff return for six against McAllen and a 75-yarder inside the 10 against Harlingen. He believes the Bobcats are experienced, playing well, and should be able to come out against the Falcons and show it all.
Neither of the leaders is looking past bi-district, though they know a second-round match with Sharyland is in the offing if things turn out the way the experts say.
“Sure we know that and we want to end up in the AlamoDome for the third round to take our shot, that’s what everyone is saying,” he admitted. “But at the same time, we are just concentrating on Friday.”
Guerrero concurred, noting that when it’s all said and done, no one really listens to the television for more than a minute.
“We just are going to come out and play football, and enjoy the atmosphere, I hear it’s going to be a big crowd,” he suggested. “That is what it’s all about. Play the game and don’t worry about the predictions.”
NOTES: EHS will have the services of seniors Aaron Garza and Ciro Reyna Friday, though both have been banged up. Garza’s turf toe is still bothering him while Reyna’s ankle is off and on. Speedy Aaron Gonzalez leads the team with 720 yards and nine scores, but Garza’s tough inside work (408 yards, 6.2 per carry) will be needed against Los Fresnos.
Martinez reported that Reyna appears ready to work his usual submarine-tackling magic against Castillo and the Falcs.
“Yeah, we have been talking about that,” he said. “Ciro wishes he hadn’t gotten hurt but he says that you just have to work with what you have. I know he will be fired up and come out hitting Friday.”
Interestingly, the two teams have never faced each other, though they did scrimmage two years ago in preseason.