HARLINGEN — It wasn’t at all pretty, but, brother, it sure was exciting.
As expected, it all came down to defense between the Wesalco Panthers and Harlingen Cardinals. And in the end, it was Big Red’s D that stepped up to the challenge.
Tailing by six with just 1:45 left in the game and facing a fourth-and-2 on the Cards’ 7-yard line, the Panthers looked primed to possibly score the game winner.
Quarterback AJ Gonzalez took the snap, faked a handoff and quickly dropped back hoping to catch the Cards’ defense off guard with a rare pass.
Nothing doing. The Cards’ secondary recognized the play and broke up the pass to ultimately seal a hard-fought 13-7 victory.
With the win the Cards improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in District 32-6A. Meanwhile, the Panthers fell to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league play.
“That’s what we do, we get on the field and it’s our responsibility to stop their offense,” said Cards head coach Manny Gomez after the game. “We bended a little bit, but we didn’t break and that’s all that matters.
“But I take my hat off to the whole team. We struggled a bit offensively, but it’s a team effort and this is definitely a great win for the Cardinals.”
OFFENSIVE FIRST HALF: All of the game’s offense took place before the break as the defenses took over in the second half.
The Panthers drew first blood on their second possession of the first quarter when junior Michael Martin took a handoff 89 yards to the end zone on a nifty piece of running.
The Cards answered on their next possession as senior star running back Leo Tienda capped off an eight-play drive with an 18-yard TD run with 4:27 left in the first period. But after a failed extra-point attempt, the Panthers still led 7-6.
After the Panthers were held to a three-and-out on their next drive, Harlingen took the lead early in the second quarter on a 1-yard TD plunge by Tienda and the extra point by Giovanni Guillen.
MISSED OPPORTNITIES: The Cardinals missed on a couple of long field-goal attempts in the first half that would have padded their lead.
The Panthers had a chance to score late in the first half as they drove the ball all the way to the Cardinals’ 27. However, a fumble was recovered by the Harlingen defense to stop the drive.
SILVER LINING: Despite the loss, Weslaco head coach Tony Villarreal remained upbeat afterward.
“We played our best game this year tonight,” Villarreal said. “The losses we’ve had have come against a state-champion (Richmond George Ranch) and then against a very good (Weslaco) East team, and these guys (Harlingen) are awesome. That’s probably the best defense we’ve faced and yet we put up yards on them. It just didn’t work out.
“The kids will get over it, though. They get over it quicker than the coaches, so they’ll be OK. But there is a lot to hang our hat on. The running game was there and also we got back two to three running backs that we hadn’t had all year. Michael Martin, Izaiah Ramos, Alex Lara and Justice Free are finally all back and we only had one coming into our first district game, so now we can open it up a little more moving forward.”
Harlingen: The Cards take the show on the road next Friday to take on the Weslaco East Wildcats.
Weslaco: The Panthers wrap up a two-game road trip next Saturday at Brownsville Rivera.