By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
This is one week when words or motivational speeches aren’t necessary, spirit shirts are in high demand and pride is definitely all over the city.
It’s “Battle” week.
The Greyhounds host the Harlingen Cardinals Friday in the 85th edition of the Battle of the Arroyo game in what easily figures to be a sellout crowd at Bobby Morrow Stadium.
The neighborly grudge match is always a highlight of the football season, but this year there’s much more to the game than just bragging rights. Both squads come into the BOA with identical 2-0 records in District 32-6A, tied for the league lead with Brownsville Veterans.
This is obviously the first Battle for ’Hounds head coach Dan Gomez, but he knows the importance of the game to the community and most importantly, to his squad’s primary goal of a district championship. He said his squad is preparing for the Cardinals’ best shot regardless of season record.
“As a coach, you always want to be on the biggest stage and perform the best you can,” he said. “From a coach’s standpoint, it’s the next game on our schedule. We’re gonna prepare just as hard next week. We’re keeping our blinders on and focused on putting our kids in a good position on Friday night.
“Harlingen’s Harlingen,” Gomez added. “People may say they’re struggling, but we don’t see that. We see a team that’s aggressive and plays with pride and confidence”
Harlingen coach Manny Gomez will coach in his eighth battle and played in several during his prep days. That said, the intense coach said he is focusing solely on the field and not getting caught up in the abundance of hoopla surrounding the game.
“Every coach in Texas is playing to win a district title. This is our biggest game because it’s the next game and this year the district title goes through San Benito,” the Cards coach said. “I don’t worry about what I can’t control. I control what the Cardinals can and can’t do and right now that’s who I’m concentrating on.”
The Cardinals (3-2 overall, 2-0 district) comes off a 37-21 win over Brownsville Hanna last week. Harlingen started the season inauspiciously with two losses in non-district but has won three straight and seemed to find its footing. More importantly, the Cards are getting healthy, notably at the quarterback position. Starter Bowie Davis missed time earlier in the year as did backup Jesse Castro. Both are healthy now, and Davis started against the Eagles last week. Depending on the course of the game, both Davis and Castro could see action.
With the quarterback situation back to normal, the Harlingen run game flourished with sophomore Leo Tienda (111 yards, three TDs vs Hanna) and Rene Tijerina, both of whom see the bulk of the carries.
Defensively, the Cards defense has been a strong unit led by a super back end. Safeties Elijah DeLeon and Felix Reyna are certainly the backbone of the Cards defense while up front, sophomore defensive end Edwin Gasca has made waves as well.
Meanwhile, the ’Hounds (3-2, 2-0) got a huge 17-14 win over Los Fresnos last week and have won two straight to start district. San Benito got a gutsy effort from quarterback Cristian Sierra and a defense which clamped down on the Falcons run game to seal an important win.
Sierra, a terrific runner who is also a talented passer, has piloted a ’Hounds offense which averages 395.4 yards per game. The senior had 276 total yards (175 passing) against the Falcons and has 771 yards passing and 415 yards rushing on the year – earning him the San Benito News Player of the Week honors for the second consecutive time. Senior Gabriel Vasquez (512 yards, 7 TDs rushing) had his lowest total of the season against Los Fresnos but is still a premier homerun threat.
Serving as Sierra’s top targets are Armando Medrano (17 receptions, 159 yards this season), Victor Gaitan (11-159) who had five grabs for 102 yards against Los Fresnos.
San Benito’s defense is led by ends Chris Padilla and Pedro Coronado, who’ve been solid up front in run defense and pass rushing categories.
The winner of Friday’s game will be in prime position for a district title run. San Benito has a huge date next Saturday with Brownsville Veterans while Harlingen takes on Los Fresnos on the road.