By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
PORT ISABEL – This is the big one.
Although some like to downplay it, the fact remains that Rio Hondo and Port Isabel are competitive rivals on the football field for what seems to be every year over the past decade.
This year seems to be no exception. The Bobcats come in a 5-1 and 1-0 in District 16-4A Division-II. The Tarpons, meanwhile, are the Valley’s only unbeaten team at 6-0 and also 1-0 in district.
Something’s gotta give.
The two teams square off Friday at Tarpon Stadium in a game of epic proportions. One team will be left on top of the district race with Orange Grove looming.
Rio Hondo opened district with a gritty 19-6 win at West Oso last week. Marco Garate (781 yards, eight TDs on the year) had 118 against the Bears and paced a ground game that carried the Cats. Quarterbacks Eli Pitones and Joshua Gonzalez are also primed to run the football and can do so at any time. The Bobcat offense has improved and gained steam with each passing week.
The Bobcats certainly have boasted one of the district’s – if not the Valley’s – best defensive units, allowing well under 200 yards per game. Led by middle linebacker Daniel Flores and a crew that loves to gang tackle to the max, the Bobcats boasted six players with double-digit total tackles against the Bears.
Head coach Rocky James has usually fielded solid defensive units, but this might be one of the best since the veteran took over in 2008. Flores, Albert Magallanes, Jose Garate and a solid cast, the Bobcats will face a stiff test in Port Isabel.
The Tarpons are ranked 12th this week in the Class 4A Associated Press poll, and what was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year has been anything but. PI (6-0, 1-0) has steamrolled the competition this year, using Monty Stumbaugh’s tried-and-true running scheme that has rushed for over 2,200 yards as a team so far.
Of course, J.J. “The Rocket” Gonzalez (753 yards, seven TDs rushing) is a dangerous home run threat, but Alex De los Santos (771, nine TDs) has burst onto the scene as well. PI’s offensive line has been superb up front to allow this unit to grow and mature with more experience. It’s not all run all the time as other teams employ, as QB Trey Mock has three TD passes this season.
On the defense, PI is salty once again. The Tarpons are stingy both on the ground and through the air, as Brownsville St. Joseph found out. Last week against Progreso, PI obliterated the ants from the opening whistle in a 61-7 romp.
The winner of the contest will be sitting pretty at 2-0 in district with three games to play. Each team has yet to face Orange Grove and quarterback Hondo Harris, so the district title isn’t a cinch for Friday’s winner.
HARLINGEN at LOS FRESNOS
There are big games aplenty this weekend, and this one will be right up there with the best of them.
Harlingen (3-3 overall, 2-1 district) comes off the emotional loss to San Benito, losing a 10-point lead in the last five minutes of the Battle of the Arroyo. Los Fresnos, (4-2, 2-1) victims of the ’Hounds two weeks ago, got back on track by throttling Brownsville Lopez.
This game isn’t for second place. A Brownsville Veterans win Saturday would certainly muddy the playoff picture in 32-6A.
Look for the Cardinals to bounce back. They found a nice rhythm with quarterback Michael Allen Gonzalez, who rushed for more 130 yards, including a 94-yard scoring scamper, vs. San Benito. With “MAG” in the game, other athletes can move to different spots to help the Cards become more dangerous.
For Los Fresnos, its 1-2 punch of RB Eli Cruz and QB Pierce Ruiz is almost second to none in terms of running the football. This game has the potential to be a smash-mouth football lover’s dream.