BY ANDREW McCULLOCH, Staff Writer
PHARR — Quarterback Iziaah Rangel scanned the field before pulling in the snap and rolling to his left.
The senior signal caller handed off the ball to running back Isaac Gonzalez, who cut right and stopped dead in his tracks in front of a wall of Hawks defenders.
The speedy sophomore reversed field, darted left toward the home sideline and sprinted to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown run on the Raiders’ first play for scrimmage.
“It was a big opening hole, so I saw that and took it,” Gonzalez said. “I ran my fastest and tried to get that touchdown. Then I was looking forward to the next play and trying to score another one.”
Gonzalez and PSJA North were off to the races after that initial score, outpacing and stuffing Harlingen South on its way to a convincing 35-19 victory. The most impressive part about Gonzalez’s long, opening touchdown run?
That wasn’t even the play call.
“He was supposed to throw it,” PSJA North coach Marcus Kaufmann said. “A toss-pass was what it was supposed to end up being, and they grabbed our receiver that he was supposed to throw to. Then he just reverses field and takes off and we were like, ‘You’re running the wrong way, what are you doing … oh, wait, never mind. Go, go.”
Gonzalez, Rangel and PSJA North shredded Harlingen South’s defense on the ground. The Raiders’ offense accounted for 231 yards on the ground off 38 carries.
Gonzalez tallied 23 rushes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore has exploded out of the gate after a breakout freshman season, recording his second straight game with three scores and more than 150 rushing yards.
“We worked as a team. We told ourselves all that hard work and dedication is going to pay off once we come on the field and (work) together,” he said. “I feel like I can be better by working harder because I still have a lot to prove. I’m going to keep getting better day by day.”
On a night when the offense was supposed to be centered around a renewed focus on the pass, the Raiders moved the ball effectively on the ground and through the air.
Rangel and receiver John John Garza proved to be a dangerous vertical tandem. The two connected on a pair of passing touchdowns — the first on the opening drive of the second quarter and the second to ice the contest with 2:28 to play in the fourth.
Rangel threw for 121 yards, two scores and an interception on 11-of-20 passing, and Garza chipped in with nine receptions for 99 yards and the pair of touchdown grabs.
“We practiced it a bunch. One of these days we’re going to pull out the passing game,” Kaufmann said. “That last play right there, stuff like that is what we expect John John to be able to do, where on a fourth-down play we can get it out to him, let him make a play and he’ll go score. He does a good job for us in the passing game.”
The Raiders were dominant defensively for much of the contest, carrying a 28-3 lead midway into the fourth quarter. Their rush defense smothered the Hawks’ running game at critical junctures, dropping their backs for negative yards several times on key third and fourth-down plays throughout the night.
Senior linebacker Aaron Alvarez and senior defensive back Seven Sanchez seemed to be in the thick of it every time their defense blew up a play behind the line of scrimmage.
Sanchez had a huge special teams play, too, that set up the Raiders’ third score right before the half, when he returned a punt 26 yards before hurdling over a defender out of bounds.
“My legs were kind of cramping up, to be honest,” he said. “I just didn’t want to get touched.”
Sanchez also played well in pass coverage with multiple deflections, but toward the end of the game the PSJA North defense allowed Harlingen South to chip away with intermediate passes while they dropped back to prevent the big play. He believes he and the rest of his unit still have a lot of room to improve.
“Our reads were off this game,” Sanchez said. “We made this a game in the fourth quarter when we shouldn’t have. We got too comfortable.”
Quarterback David Torres led a late charge for the Hawks, connecting with Brady Bennett and Ryan Castillo for a pair of passing touchdowns inside the 9-minute mark, but it was too little, too late.
Torres ended the night completing 12 of 25 passes for 146 yards, and the team added 162 rushing yards on 33 carries. Ultimately, it was a litany of false-start and delay-of-game penalties in addition to a general inability to prolong drives and convert third-and-short situations that led to Harlingen South’s demise.
“We’ve still got a lot to prove,” Gonzalez said. “We have to show those other teams what we’re capable of and show them that we can go far. We have high expectations this year.”
PSJA North (2-0) makes its return to the gridiron for a clash at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at Weslaco High, and Harlingen South (1-1) plays 7 p.m. Thursday at McAllen High.