By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
WESLACO—As the final seconds ticked away on a chilly Friday night at Bobby Lackey Stadium, the looks on the sideline said it all.
To a man, the San Benito Greyhounds either had tears in their eyes, scowls on their faces or just stared off into the distance.
Any of those reactions was certainly understandable after Weslaco East shook off a slow start and scored 42 unanswered points as the Wildcats ran past the ’Hounds 42-14 in a Class 6A Division-II bi-district contest.
A tremendous season for the Greyhounds which brought back the spirit and pride many in the community clamored for ends at 6-5 with a shared 32-6A championship while the Wildcats (9-2) move on to the area round of the playoffs to face either Laredo LBJ or La Joya Palmview.
“They’re a good ballclub and that’s what the story of the game was,” Greyhounds head coach Dan Gomez said of East afterward. “You have to limit your mistakes when you face a good ballclub, especially in the postseason.”
For the ’Hounds, a spirited senior class featuring names like Cristian Sierra, Gabriel Vasquez, Chris Padilla and Pedro Coronado leaves with plenty to boast about: Bringing back a winning attitude to go with Battle of the Arroyo and 32-6A trophies.
“Anytime you go into a program looking to establish things and get it going it’s important to have a good group of seniors,” Gomez said of the group. “They set the tone with leadership, commitment and desire. They kept pushing and met all of the expectations that could’ve been set.”
At the start of Friday’s game with temperatures in the 40s, it didn’t appear it would be San Benito’s last outing of the season as the ’Hounds came out hot and played with nothing to lose.
The ’Hounds punted on their first possession and gave it to the high-powered Wildcats, but Juan “Missle” Gonzalez recovered a fumble for San Benito. On the same drive, the ’Hounds were set to punt it back to East, but the Wildcats fumbled again and San Benito recovered on the Wildcat 24. Then J.R. Gaitan, who started at quarterback for a hobbled Cristian Sierra, lofted a pass and R.J. Atkinson came down with a gorgeous 29-yard touchdown. Alejandro Lugo’s point-after made it 7-0 with 8:26 left in the opening stanza.
San Benito pulled out all the stops and went onside on the ensuing kickoff and recovered near midfield. Four plays later, Edward Alvarez ran around right end, fell on top of an East defender, alertly got up and raced 30 yards to the end zone and a 14-0 lead.
But then the Wildcats woke up.
Lupe Moron (16 carries, 69 yards 4 TDs) put his homerun capabilities on full display as he zipped for a 71-yard touchdown to get East in the game.
While Moron and quarterback Darren Rivas keyed the offense, Ciro Rojas took care of things on the defensive side.
Rojas picked off Gaitan to give it to the Widlcats and Rivas cashed it in with a five-yard score to knot the game at 14 with 8:58left in the second quarter.
The bad tidings just got worse from there for San Benito as East recovered a fumble on the next drive. Sierra came in at quarterback but was not his usual self and couldn’t generate a scoring drive thereafter. Earlier in the half Vasquez re-aggravated an injury and did not return.
All of that aside, after dodging a bullet thanks to a missed Wildcat field goal, the ’Hounds managed to remain tied at 14 going into the locker room.
Then East turned on the jets whilethings went ice cold for the ’Hounds.
San Benito couldn’t muster anything offensively and gave East short fields on a bad punt snap and an interception by Rojas, who recorded three on the evening. East got TDs by Moron (5 yards), a rare pass from Rivas to the man of the hour Rojas (13 yards) to go up 28-14 with 2:56 left in the third.
Later, Moron added a 13-yard TD run early in the fourth and slammed the door shut with a 92-yard jaunt for the final margin, which coincidentally, matched the score when San Benito lost to the Wildcats in Week 2.
All in all, the ’Hounds have plenty of reasons for optimism in 2015 with 4/5 of the offensive line returning along with playmakers in J.R. Gaitan, Mando Medrano, Alvarez, Jorge Cantu and a talented freshman squad as well. Throw in another year in Gomez’s program and the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve got a group of hard workers,” Gomez said. “As a coaching staff that’s all we can ask for and we have that. We are definitely gonna get to work and put in a lot of work to make sure San Benito football becomes an elite program in the Rio Grande Valley.”