By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
At the end of the night, they’re still district champions…just not the way they would’ve liked.
On a cold, drizzly evening, the San Benito Greyhounds were plagued by four turnovers in the first quarter alone, eventually clawed even, but fell short to surging Brownsville Rivera 42-35 on Friday at Bobby Morrow Stadium.
With the loss, San Benito (6-4 overall, 5-2 district) finishes in a three-way tie for the 32-6A championship with Rivera and Harlingen, each of whom finished at 5-2 in league play. Los Fresnos (4-2) can join that group Saturday night with a win over Brownsville Hanna and make it a four-way championship.
“We met one of our goals and it’d have been nice if we had sole possession, but we learn from our losses and we’ll move on and get ready for the playoffs,” said San Benito coach Dan Gomez, who guided the ’Hounds to their first shared district title since 2011. “Our kids fought to the end like they have all year. But we got beat by the better ballclub tonight. We’ll pick up our heads, get to work and see what we did wrong and get moving.”
Rivera, meanwhile, pulled off one of the more memorable in-season turnarounds in recent memory. The Raiders (5-5, 5-2) began the season 0-5 before reeling off five straight wins to conjure up memories of Tom Chavez Raider Magic of yesteryear.
The Raiders came out determined as they had the previous four weeks. They were sound and seemed to not let the November Rain deter them. The ’Hounds still fought valiantly and had chances, but just could not pull ahead.
As steady rain fell out of the north, San Benito opened the game with a fumble on the game’s second play. Two plays later, Rivera quarterback Danny Elizondo found his favorite target Edward Rubio for a 34-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Upon punting it back to the Raiders, the ’Hounds pulled even on a 49-yard fumble return for a score by defensive end Chris Padilla. Alejandro Lugo’s point after knotted the game at 7 with 8:49 left in the first.
But Rivera’s Christopher Godoy, who was a man possessed in the first half, returned the favor when he scooped a fumble and returned it 39 yards to the house. After Edward Velasquez recorded an interception for the Raider defense, Elizondo found Rubio on a 21-yarder, putting the score at 21-7 with 4:41 still left in the first. Godoy later recovered another loose ball in the opening stanza.
In what was a common theme on the evening, San Benito answered midway through the second when, Cristian Sierra, who bounced back from an off night at Harlingen South, hit Victor Gaitan for an 18-yard score.
Rivera too had a response and got it when Elizondo and Rubio did it again on a 42-yard pitch-and-catch, pushing the lead to 28-14 Raiders with 1:40 to before intermission. On a pretty play, the ’Hounds’ Sierra heaved a pass and J.R. Gaitan came down with a 36-yard TD to electrify the crowd and pull San Benito to within 28-21. It stayed that way until half.
After Juan Salas recovered a fumble for the ’Hounds, Sierra later cashed it in on a one-yard plunge to tie the game at 28 with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter and all certainly seemed well.
Elizondo squashed that when he hit Rubio in stride for a 50-yard dagger as the Raiders retook the lead. Rubio finished the night with 147 yards and the four touchdowns on only five grabs.
After a Greyhound punt, the Raiders marched 92 yards on 10 plays, including a huge 3rd-and-8 from their own 10. Elizondo’s two-yard TD capped the drive which chewed up over five minutes and the QB finished with 116 yards rushing.
Sierra scored from five yards out a couple minutes later and the San Benito D got a three-and-out with 3:56 to go. However, the ’Hounds stalled and turned it over on downs to allow the Raiders to basically run the clock out after that.
The ’Hounds are certainly smiling going into the playoffs after a two-year absence. San Benito had chances in Week 10 and 11 to earn the program’s first outright district title in 10 years but couldn’t convert. Now, they’ll back into the postseason with two straight losses and a date with Weslaco East in a Class 6A Division-II bi-district game next week.
“Our kids do a good job of moving on and they’ll get ready for Weslaco East,” Gomez said. “It’s no secret what they’re gonna do, so we’ll prepare the best that we can throughout the week. Our kids are resilient.”