By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
Legendary? That might do it.
Webster himself couldn’t come up with enough suitable adjectives to describe the San Benito Greyhounds’ miracle comeback on Friday night.
Trailing Harlingen by 10 points with five minutes left in the 85th Battle of the Arroyo, all hope was lost and it appeared the Cardinals would win the rivalry game for the 60th time.
Not on this night.
Little by little, the never-say-die ’Hounds crawled back into it and Armando Medrano snagged a 29-yard touchdown from Cristian Sierra with 34 ticks left on the clock. The defense had to hold off a late Cardinal last-gasp effort to seal a 25-21 victory which will be talked about for a long time.
For some, Medrano’s catch was shades of 1995, when San Benito broke a 28-year winless streak against Harlingen thanks to a 44-yard TD catch by Jason Montemayor. Medrano’s catch wasn’t a streak breaker, but it capped one of the most incredible comebacks in Battle of the Arroyo (and Greyhound) history.
’Hounds head coach Dan Gomez could only smile afterward as his squad has just completed one of the most remarkable rallies one will see.
“We put ourselves in a hole and we knew we were gonna get a game out of Harlingen because that’s who they are,” Gomez said afterward. “But we showed who we were tonight.”
“Resiliency. That’s every kid (in San Benito). That’s why we coach high school football. As coaches, that’s why we do it. Because we see the resiliency in our young men and our job is to bring it out of ‘em.”
On the other side, Harlingen coach Manny Gomez was complimentary of the ’Hounds after what took place.
“That’s a good win for the San Benito program,” he said. “They made more plays than we did.”
From the get-go, it appeared it was simply not San Benito’s night.
The opening kickoff was fumbled to the Cardinals (3-3 overall, 2-1 district), which set up their first score, a 17-yard strike from Bowie Davis to Fidencio Gonzalez on third-and-long.
Three possessions later, the ’Hounds’ Alejandro Lugo booted a 32-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 11:07 left in the first half.
Three possessions after that, an apparent touchdown by Cristian Sierra was ruled down at the 1, and the ’Hounds (4-2, 3-0) fumbled the ball away on the next play.
Harlingen didn’t convert and the score stayed the same at half as the Cards led with only 78 yards offensively.
Midway through the third, a San Benito fake punt attempt failed and fumbled. Harlingen got the ball at the ’Hounds 5. Harlingen’s Michael Allen Gonzalez dove in from a yard away to push the Cards lead to 14-3 at the 7:48 mark of the third.
Later in the quarter, R.J. Atkinson hauled in what appeared to be a 28-yard TD pass. But officials ruled Atkinson did not control the ball as he dropped it after crossing the goal line, giving the ball back to Harlingen.
Early in the fourth, San Benito drove down to the Harlingen 2, but penalties pushed the ’Hounds back and they eventually turned it over on downs.
That set up the Cards’ Gonzalez, who busted loose on a terrific 94-yard touchdown run to make it 21-3 Harlingen with 8:54 left in the game.
All hope seemed lost, but that’s when the ’Hounds got to work on the amazing comeback.
San Benito mounted a 12-play drive which ended with a 5-yard run by Gabriel Vasquez, a score that on the surface was no big deal, but it most certainly was. Matthew Yzaguirre then caught the conversion pass and the score was 21-11 Cardinals with 5:07 left.
Then the Greyhound defense, a bit dejected after allowing Gonzalez’s long run, forced a three-and-out as Harlingen ran it three times to chew clock.
Then with 3:25 to go, the ’Hounds worked their way down the field and Sierra lofted a pass and birthday boy Atkinson went up and made a superb catch for a 28-yard touchdown. The PAT was good and it was 21-18 with 1:08 to go.
Then it got really interesting as everything came down to the foot of Alejandro Lugo, who would attempt an onside kick.
Lugo hit a perfect dribbler up the middle as is somersaulted along the Bobby Morrow Stadium turf. A Cardinal made a go at it, but the ball squirted free and San Benito’s Skyler Garcia pounced on it at its own 44 yard line with 1:07 to go.
Sierra trotted out and two plays later threw an interception which many felt ended the game. But a pass interference penalty gave them new life.
A couple plays later, Sierra found Medrano for the glorious touchdown that will be talked about for years to come.
“I didn’t know it was coming. I just looked up and the ball was coming, so I had to catch it,” Medrano said. “I just had to find a play. I had confidence I would catch it. It was tough, I’m not gonna lie.”
The man of the hour shared the team’s sentiments on the big win.
“We got down when we had those two touchdowns taken away, but we had to come back somehow. This win means a lot to us,” Medrano said. “Just to get that Battle of the Arroyo trophy back, it means a lot.”
For Gomez, the significance was definitely there, but he was talking big picture.
“It means we’re 3-0,” he said of the win with a smile.