By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
RIO HONDO – A fair prediction can be made for Friday night at Bobcat Stadium: There will plenty of black and gold on both sides.
Last year’s 16-2A Division-I champion Santa Rosa makes the trip down Highway 106 to take on Rio Hondo in a non-district opener for both teams.
Santa Rosa is now up to Class 3A while the Bobcats made the jump with everyone else to 4A.
The Warriors went from worst to first last season for new coach Arturo Garcia. So naturally, the expectations are high in Warriorland.
Wally Olivarez is a two-way player (RB/LB) who is among the area’s best. He’s a tough runner on offense and a solid tackler on defense. Quarterback A.J. Mendiola is also back for Santa Rosa, which is playing Rio Hondo to open the season for the third straight year.
In their two scrimmages, the Warriors battled to a 2-2 draw with Monte Alto while last week tied Robstown 1-1 and fell 7-0 in a shortened live portion.
Meanwhile, the Cats came off two productive scrimmages, a blasting of Brownsville St. Joseph in the first week and a thrilling, come-from-behind win over Class 5A Valley View last week.
Eli Pitones is back at the controls for Rio Hondo and will lean on a stout running game keyed by Marco Garate, which looked good in preseason.
Rio Hondo’s defense might be the best among area small schools right now. Led by MLB Daniel Flores, Head Coach Rocky James has once again put a super unit on the field, should it stay healthy.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Rio Hondo.
EDINBURG NORTH at LOS FRESNOS
It will be a great barometer for both teams when Edinburg North goes to Leo Aguilar Memorial Stadium to face the Falcons.
The Cougars will be with a new head coach, Rene Saenz, after former coach Roy Garza was elevated to ECISD athletic director.
North lost a bulk of last year’s roster which took the Coogs to the third round of the playoffs; however, RB Matt Whitesides is the focal point of the offense and should be a highlight once again. Saenz, the former defensive coordinator at North, looks to field another salty defense to carry the Coogs in their new district, 31-6A.
Los Fresnos also lost some skill positions from a year ago but will rely on a mammoth offensive line to get the job done this season. The Falcons won their first playoff game of the Clint Finley era and are looking for more this season. The game marks the debut for QB Pierce Ruiz, who takes over for the graduated Javier Cruz.
Ruiz won’t have the entire offense on his shoulders as he has tailback Eli Cruz beside him to lead the ground game which will be paved by huge guard Michael Mendez (6-5, 300) and tackle Carlos Galvan.
Defensively, the Falcons will look to be aggressive once again. Defensive end J.C. Garcia will do a great job on the edge while the back end is a strength led by CBs Jordan Rojas and Alex Simien along with safety Fabian Rodriguez.
HARLINGEN SOUTH at WESLACO
In what appears to be somewhat of a mismatch on paper, the South Hawks begin their massive rebuild at Bobby Lackey Stadium against a good Weslaco Panther team.
South (0-0) lost a bevy of players from last year’s team, most of them from a phenomenal group of seniors. The Hawks will have a small varsity roster and several players will play both offense and defense, including DB James Carpio, one of the better athletes for Head Coach Lanny Wilson.
Weslaco, however, has no problems with numbers and will look to feast on a depleted South team. The Panthers have a ton of starters back and will run the ball at-will in Head Coach Tony Villarreal’s Slot-T.