When they needed a boost on the final Friday night of 2011, the Coogs plowed their way to a win behind the unsung heroes in the trenches.
Down eight at the half in the season finale, North hitched its wagon to the mammoth offensive line and went to work, grinding out two long touchdown drives after the break to defeat Econ 30-21, marking its fourth straight win over the Jags and eighth in 12 lifetime Rivalry games.
Econ (0-7, 0-10) owned the first half, 15-7 as it doubled the offensive output of its enemy and parlayed sharp special teams and sure tackling into an advantage. But North (3-4, 3-7) carried the day in the second half behind 300-pound senior tackle Rudy Trevino and his mates, passing just once and amassing 196 rushing yards in the final two periods.
The beneficiary of the move-‘em-out at the line of scrimmage was senior Rollie Borrego, who hammered for 205 yards on 37 carries, including two scores in the third that secured a Coog the lead. The stocky powerpack went past 1,000 yards for the year despite having missed two games, ending with 1,059.
The Jags hit the wall in the half, fumbling away a squib kickoff and giving up 14 points before running a single play from scrimmage after intermission. That huge hiccup cost them, as North leapt into the momentum seat and used its power to salt away the win, closing out a somewhat disappointing season.
For the Orange, it was a spirited effort and though finishing winless for 2011, this club fought until the end, had some excellent moments, and is excited about the future. To wit, five of the eight leading tacklers Friday were underclassmen, with sophomore linebacker Jaime Salinas (10) joining a trio of quality seniors, Bryan Rios and Neri Reyna (11 each) and Danny Saavedra (nine stops and a fine night overall).
Gabe Pena's Slot-T offense gained 337 yards and the defense held North to 322, the lowest yield of the year for a group that has struggled to stop people. But the Jags failed to take a turnover for the sixth time in their last seven games and labored with a minus-14 turnover ratio this season.
In the beginning, the Jags stopped the Coogs well enough, and put two TDs on the board, almost three. After being held early on downs at the North 17, they later drove 88 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead at 0:36 of the first on a 2-yard rumble from junior Bubba Villarreal. A big 24-yard screen to Villarreal behind a super block from Oscar Calzada, plus Villarreal's 20-yard scamper, set up the six.
North answered nicely with a 68-yard march in 15 plays, with Borrego slamming for two fourth-down conversions and senior Joel Cuellar swimming in from the 1 at 6:09 of the half to tie it.
Thanks to a pair of first downs from elusive Woody Flores (82 yards Friday to end with 893) and great handiwork from QB Luis Alvarez, the Jags assumed command at 15-7 late in the half. Alvarez fed Anthony Luna on an inside trap, and the junior sliced away from action and into the end zone from 28 yards out at 3:04.
The Coogs, who came so close to squeezing into the fourth playoff spot from 31-5A, played with pride and skill after the break, going 88 yards in 14 snaps to tie it at 15 with 4:38 left in the half. The steady adventure was aided by a 27-yard ball from Cuellar to Mike Hinojosa on third and 8; Borrego later romped in from the 3, Cuellar running in the 2-point conversion.
Then the play of the night, as burly North kicker Jacob Salinas punched the kickoff off a Jag lineman and recovered the ball himself at the Econ 42. Getting a break for one of the few times all season, the Coogs responded with a quick jaunt to take the lead, as Borrego followed a 15-yard, third-and-8 scramble by Cuellar with a 13-step six-pointer at 1:36 of the third.
Luna contributed another nice run of 24 yards as Econ got the ball back down 22-15, and eventually Saavedra (he caught two balls for 72 yards, the Orange compiled a season high in passing markers) raced seven yards around left end for the touch. Pena elected to go for two but the Jags were stopped, and still trailed 22-21 at 10:40.
North needed a clock-eating drive, and one was there, a 61-yard pound starring Borrego, who toted the ball 27 times in the second half for 133 yards. He barged forward for first downs twice on third try against a tiring Econ D, and Cuellar concluded the clinching sequence with a nifty 11-yarder at 5:30.
Junior Vince Ortiz again paced the North D, with 18 tackles and a stellar breakup of a long Jag pass. Classmate Rey Rico was strong from the corner with 11 stops, and just like Econ, five of the eight leading hitters for the Coogs in the finale are coming back next year.
"We knew we had to play keep-away from their offense because it can get some yards," said North Coach Roy Garza, whose club misses the playoffs for the second season in a row after three straight appearances from 2007 to 2009. "That fumble on the kickoff made a huge difference, we were able to go down and score off it, which was very key."
Flores, who keyed one of the Valley's most consistent ground games this season behind a junior-dominated line led by Hugo Jimenez, said that despite the team's record, the Jags feel like 2011 was a better effort all around than last year's 3-7 count.
"The seniors here got together way before the season and decided we had to step up," said the high-stepping runner. "Coach Pena pushed us to be better in so many ways, he did everything he could with us and I hope we have helped start a new tradition for next year."
NORTH VS. ECON
NORTH (3-4, 3-7) 0 7 15 8 - 30
ECON (0-7, 0-10) 7 8 0 6 - 21
E: Bubba Villarreal 2 run (Oscar Calzada kick) 0:36
N: Joel Cuellar 1 run (Reyes Espino kick) 6:09
E: Anthony Luna 28 run (Woody Flores run) 3:04
N: Rollie Borrego 3 run (Cuellar run) 4:38
N: Borrego 13 run (Espino kick) 1:36
E: Danny Saavedra 7 run (pass failed) 10:40
N: Cuellar 11 run (Cuellar run) 5:03
NORTH: FD 22; RUSH 279; PASS 43; TOTAL 322; TO 1
RUSH: Borrego 37-205; Cuellar 13-74
PASS: Cuellar 4-9-0 43
RECEIVING: Mike Hinojosa 1-27; Mike Garcia 1-14; Jimmy Ramirez 1-9; Tevin Brown 1-(-7)
TACKLES: Vince Ortiz 18; Rey Rico 11; Diego Sandoval 9; Robbie de Leon 7; Eddie Olivarez 6; Josh Dennett 5; Thomas Leyva 5; Servando Cuellar 5; Christian Marin 5/FUM REC: Jacob Salinas
ECON: FD 17; RUSH 241; PASS 96; TOTAL 337; TO 1
RUSH: Flores 17-82; Villarreal 13-74; Luna 5-64; Saavedra 2-14; Tony Yzaguirre 2-7; Mark Villegas 2-0
PASSING: Luis Alvarez 3-8-0 96
RECEIVING: Saavedra 2-72; Villarreal 1-24
TACKLES: Neri Reyna 11; Bryan Rios 10; Jaime Salinas 10; Saavedra 9; JJ Castro 8; Mark Garza 8; Aliver Garza 7; Abraham de Leon 7; Alexis Garcia 6; Zacuk Hinojosa 5