By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
RIO HONDO — The boys in black and gold had this one for the taking.
That’s what will hurt the most after Rio Hondo fell short against Orange Grove 21-18 on Friday night at Bobcat Stadium.
The win put the Bulldogs (6-2, 3-0 in District 16-4A D-II) alone in first place with two games left on the slate. Rio Hondo (6-2, 2-1) is a game back along with Port Isabel (7-1, 2-1) which will go to Orange Grove next week in a huge showdown.
Rio Hondo stayed with the high-powered Bulldogs for the most part early but couldn’t capitalize on two Orange Grove turnovers. A special teams lapse broke the Bobcats’ backs and they couldn’t fully recover after that.
“We played really sound defense, but offensively we just didn’t score enough points tonight,” Rio Hondo head coach Rocky James said. “This is a game we feel let slip through our fingers, so basically we’ve gotta keep working hard and take care of business against Raymondville and hope for the best for PI. Hope they can pull one out for us.”
The Bobcats came in after the huge win over PI and did not appear to have suffered any type of letdown.
Bulldog QB ace Hondo Harris (218 yards passing) came in and immediately began to drive his squad down the field for an apparent opening score. But Marcos Carrizales ended the threat with a nice interception in the end zone for the Bobcats.
On the ensuing possession, Rio Hondo QB Eli Pitones broke loose on a 70-yard sprint down to the Bulldog 9. But the drive unfortunately stalled and Rio Hondo could only muster a 25-yard Danny Cucul field goal with 6:07 to go in the first quarter.
Harris got going on the next drive, despite heavy pressure from the Bobcats’ defensive front, namely Albert Magallanes, who recorded a sack. But a key 4th-and-20 conversion from the 31on a superb pass from Harris to Christian Webb for 26 yards kept the drive alive. On the next play, Ricky Martinez ran in a five-yarder to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 edge with 3:10 left.
After a Rio Hondo punt, Jose Garate picked off Harris to give the Cats a chance. But Hunter Ray returned the favor for Orange Grove as he intercepted Eli Pitones three plays later.
The teams traded fourth down stops and punts with an interception and missed field goal on Rio Hondo’s side as the score remained 7-3 Bulldogs at the half.
After intermission, Rio Hondo’s adjustments paid off handsomely with a nice nine-play, 70-yard drive which culminated with a 10-yard TD pass from Pitones to Derek Salazar. Cucul’s PAT gave the Cats the 10-7 advantage midway through the third as momentum was all Rio Hondo’s
However on the ensuing kickoff, Orange Grove’s Martinez ran it back over 80 yards for a touchdown to suck the life out of the stadium and give the Bulldogs a 14-10 edge with 7:08 to go in the third.
“That kickoff return proved to be the difference,” James said. “We had just scored and had all the momentum. We just didn’t take care of business.”
Orange Grove’s Ruben Ortiz picked off Joshua Gonzalez and the Bulldogs capitalized with Martinez’s 41-yard TD from Harris as the back slipped wide open on a wonderful wheel route out of the backfield.
The Cats clawed closer late in the fourth on a one-yard score from Marco Garate, who ran tough for 153 yards on the night. Pitones snuck in for the conversion to close to 21-18 with just over two minutes to go. But an onside kick failed and the Bulldogs eventually ran out the clock.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us against Raymondville. We’ve gotta get refocused. These three tough district games back to back to back are tough. Everybody’s good in our district so we’ve just gotta get everything straight and keep moving forward.”
Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.