This was an intense one, this rematch, as North’s Wally De la Paz managed to get kicked out not once, but twice. And he wasn’t even playing!
North and Econ went at it again Friday, with the superb De la Paz balancing on crutches, courtesy of a broken ankle suffered in the first match between the bitter foes. The Jags took that one but came into the second try off a loss to Harlingen South. North, a game behind Econ for the 31-5A lead, had lost also in the previous game, to P-SJ-A.
So besides the fact these teams loathe each other, the playoff ramifications were huge. Taunting the Jags after a penalty kick at the tail end of the JV scrum, De la Paz was asked to vacate the end zone by the arbitros. Then, midway through the varsity tilt, he was again banished for excessive chatter, and that’s the kind of night it was.
The game was as exciting as the extracurricular monkey business, as Econ rallied from a 1-0 deficit for the equalizer on an own-goal by North, and then dominated the stretch run for a 2-1 win that kept the defending champ in first place with an 8-2 mark.
Senior Vivian Garza had a hand in both scores. His slicing, 40-yard thru-ball was knocked in on accident by a sliding Jose Morales of North at 23:07. Later, Garza’s corner kick was headed netward beautifully by Freddy Serrato at 10:53, and the Jags, outplayed for much of the night, had pulled one off.
“We weren’t surprised that we won,” said Garza afterward. “It wasn’t magic, it was us! We’re Economedes and we are the kings, that’s it.”
For the Cougars, it was a devastating loss, as they’d come in looking for revenge, after the earlier defeat and the loss of their leading kicker, De la Paz. The city has been abuzz about the injury, with North supporters claiming dirty pool and Econ insisting that no foul was called on the play, and there was no intent to injure.
Either way, with Cesar Barajas and Jorge “Cookie Vazquez” controlling in the middle and Virgil Pena — moved to forward after a rash of injuries — getting close on a number of opportunities in the first, North was looking strong.
The Coogs had seven solid shots in the half but did not scratch until Barajas stormed down the middle past Serrato to connect on a boomer, right side to the opposite post, at 29:43 of the second.
Econ began to attack, but defender Emmanuel Oliva was strong for the Coogs on several tries. For the first 15 minutes of the half, the homestanding Coogs were in command until the fatal error that tied the game.
“That sparked us, and from there, we started playing well,” said Econ coach Sam Gonzalez, whose team has been up and down this year but still good enough to maintain the top spot in the league from the opening night. “We still need to be more consistent, but we were able to come back. It’s a big win for us.”
NOTES: The North girls were shocked on the road at Econ, as Robert Garcia’s Lady Jags converted a couple of penalty kicks to upset the previously unbeaten Lady Coogs, 2-1. North (9-1) suffered its first loss of the season after 20 wins, taking more than a dozen shots but failing against Econ (3-7 in district with the outstanding showing). North played without three starters, including freshman phenom Sammie Gutierrez.
In other sports, Edinburg (26-7) is on to the regional quarterfinals after a 56-52 area-round hoops win over Laredo Alexander Friday night. The Runnin’ Cats trailed by 10 in the first half before putting on a third-period run to take control and beat the Bulldogs for the second straight year.
Next up is a tough challenge against San Antonio Southwest Wednesday night, with the winner moving on to the regional tournament in San Antonio.
The ‘Cats got to the second round with an outstanding performance against a surprisingly tough Los Fresnos team Monday. They beat the Falcons 101-91 with Chris Flores ringing up 26 points and making eight steals. Flores has eight three-pointers in the two playoff wins.
Aaron Olvera (22) and Jaime Acuna (23) also had big games as EHS rallied from a 3-point halftime deficit to put a 15-0 run on the Falcons in the third to take control. The bench also contributed good minutes in bi-district, as Phillip De la Rosa and Eric Cuellar were in solid form, along with senior Robert Pimental.