HARLINGEN — In a game that often comes down to inches, Friday’s 87th Battle of the Arroyo actually came down to one foot.
The foot of Harlingen’s Giovanni Guillen, that is.
The senior kicker nailed a 52-yard field goal with 3:51 left in the game to give the Cardinals an incredible 29-27 come-from-behind victory over the San Benito Greyhounds.
With the win, the Cards (8-2, 7-0) clinched the outright District 32-6A championship, snapped a two-game Battle losing skid, improved their Battle record to 60-22-5 and handed the ’Hounds (9-1, 6-1) their first loss of the season.
“I’m just so proud of this team, my staff and the entire community,” said an elated Cards head coach Manny Gomez as he hugged his daughter after the sold-out game.
“Everyone stepped up and did their job, and it feels great to get the job done. I’m just so happy right now.”
Early on, however, it looked like the Greyhounds were going to win their third straight Battle as their offense looked unstoppable in the first half and rolled to a 21-12 halftime lead behind their nimble-footed quarterback Erick Retta and shifty running back Tyrone Harper.
But in the second half, the Cards received the ball and marched it down the field 66 yards ending the drive on a touchdown pass to Jeriel Cervantes that cut San Benito’s lead down to 21-19.
Harlingen then took a 25-21 lead late in the third quarter after Kaynon Fuentes scored on a 48-yard punt return that sent the Cardinals contingent wild.
Not fazed by the sudden shift in momentum, the Greyhounds answered right back as Harper scampered into the end zone untouched on an 11-yard run to put San Benito back on top 27-26 after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.
Up by one, the ’Hounds looked to pad their lead, but with 5:53 left in the game they fumbled the ball away and the Cards recovered at the San Benito 35-yard line.
After three plays that went nowhere, it was all up to Guillen and he came through in the clutch with a kick that sailed right down the middle of the uprights with plenty of distance to spare, sending the Cardinals fans into an absolute frenzy. Guillen’s kick broke the school record of 51 yards that was set by Nacho Sauceda in 1994 during a second-round playoff game against Corpus Christi Carroll.
“I was ready and I did it,” Guillen said very nonchalantly after the contest.
But as loud as the crowd got after the go-ahead field goal, that was nothing compared to the sound it made after Harlingen defender Steve Martinez picked off San Benito QB Retta at the Greyhounds’’ 7 to seal the deal.
“We made some changes in the second half that allowed us to stop their offense. We went from man-to-man to zone and that worked,” Gomez said. “But these kids are so resilient. Steve Martinez, he’s a kid who’s got another gear and I’m just so proud of him, and all the guys.”