It’s been a season of transition for the Landsharks with new faces, tons of injuries, and an uncharacteristic three regular season losses heading into the TUFL playoffs. But Edinburg gave a superb effort Saturday night at Cats Stadium, bombing the South Texas Lions 39-13 to advance to the conference championship this weekend in San Antonio,

Marco Guzman caught three balls for 80 yards and provided excellent field position with speedy returns before pulling a hamstring in the second half. Veteran linebacker Charlie Gonzales was tremendous, with four sacks for a defense that allowed a paltry minus-8 yards rushing. The Sharks built a 19-0 lead in the second period before yielding two scores, only to rebound well to finish the night’s work.

The Sharks, now 8-3, will face off against the tough San Antonio Warriors, an unbeaten group that defeated them earlier in the season, Saturday night at Somerset Stadium. Though it’s been an up-and-down campaign for the former state champs, they turned it on when they had to and beat a solid Lion team soundly.

Gonzalez, a part of the undefeated (regular season) La Joya HS team of 1999 and a four-year semi-pro veteran, moved to the middle LB spot with the departure of long-time star Mike Martinez, and has done a fine job for a new-look Edinburg D.

“I had some big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” said Gonzalez, who notched 10 sacks in 2008. “A lot of guys have had to step up on defense since we lost several key players coming into the year. Being part of this team is time-consuming, and sometimes guys just can’t be here. But we’ve been working hard all season.”

With Gonzalez anchoring a sturdy run defense along with tackle Jaime Hinojosa, the Landsharks have advanced to the second round. On the other side of the ball, they ran well Saturday, picking up 174 yards, while quarterback Renato Nunez completed 19 balls for 255 yards and four touchdowns, two to Felix Carrillo.

With top-line receivers Kalani Jaime and Shedric Dallas off and on with injuries, Carrillo and Guzman have come to the fore along with dependable big-play man Bryon Gonzalez. But with Guzman expected to miss the conference final, Coach Joe Ramirez is going to have to dig deeper into his bag of tricks to pull the upset.

“Never, not even close,” said Ramirez Saturday, when asked if he could remember his team suffering as many bang-ups in a single season. “This has been tough to deal with, because we don’t have as many players on the roster as in past years. But somehow we have managed to come this far.”

Saturday Edinburg started strongly, driving to the Lion 27 before losing a fumble on its first series. Making two knifing penetrations to break up plays in the backfield, the 200-pound Gonzalez served notice that it would be a long night for the visitor. Though the Sharks allowed 212 passing yards, they intercepted a pair of balls and held South Texas to minus-8 rushing yards on 20 tries.

Carrillo hauled in a 12-yard strike from Nunez for a 7-0 lead at 2:58 of the first, and then Guzman dived headlong for the second TD, a 35-yarder through the air in the second period. An interception by Edinburg led to a 2-yard Nunez-to-Carrillo bullet late in the half, but the Lions hit a long one and later scored with 24 seconds left to make it 19-6 at the intermission

South Texas marched to a long drive to begin the third, narrowing the margin to seven at 10:41. But the Sharks answered quickly, with Guzman motoring all the way to the Lion 39 on the ensuing kick. Gonzalez skied between two defenders in the end zone to snag a super 11-yard TD catch at 8:25, making it 26-12 and then Joseph Trevino, competing with a broken thumb on one hand, leapt high in the air on the sidelines to tip a ball and come down with a key interception. These last two plays marked the key juncture of the tilt, and the Sharks came through.

Edinburg got a pair of scores to ice the game in the fourth, with former Econ Jag Jacob Cura (72 yards, teammate Elias Reyes had 72 as well) racing 49 yards for one.

NOTES: Dallas got six catches in the second half, testing his bum ankle and pronouncing himself fit to go for the title game, in which the Sharks enter as the distinct underdog.